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fering by miracles with the course of evolution and the uniformity of the
laws of nature. The cause of miracles may be considered as out of court
when even enlightened advocates who hold a brief for them, like Dr.
Temple, a Bishop of the Anglican Church, throw it up and declare "that
all the countless varieties of the universe were provided for by an original
impress, and not by special acts of creation modifying what had previously
been made."

Dogmatic theology, therefore, having no solid foundation either in
abstract reason or in historic facts, and being in hopeless conflict with
science, is bound to disappear; and even now, in addressing enlightened
and impartial men, it may be taken as " une quantite negligeable. " This


being the case, the barrier which separates Agnosticism from Christianity
is to a great extent removed. The term ' ' Christian Agnostic " is coming
more and more to the front in the thoughts and utterances of enlightened
Christian men. I notice these with pleasure, for it is always more profit-
able to find points of agreement rather than of difference with sincere and
reasonable men. A Professor of Divinity, preaching in the University of
Oxford a short time ago, said: " The field of speculative theology maybe
regarded as almost exhausted: we must be content henceforward to be
Christian Agnostics. " Canon Freemantle, in an article in the Fortnightty
Review, quotes this with approval. In the course of a very able argument
on the changed conditions of theology, he says that "theologians, in de-
fiance of Aristotle's axiom, that you must not expect demonstration from
a rhetorician, have begun with axioms and definitions and proceeded to
demonstrations. They have said or ' proved ' that God is just or good,
God is personal, God is omniscient and omnipotent; and they have used
these phrases, not in a literary, but in a quasi-scientific manner, and have
proceeded to draw strict inferences from them. But, in doing this, they
have not only acted in the way of unwarrantable assumptions; they have
often produced what St. Paul termed the vain janglings of a science
falsely so called; have enslaved the Divine to their own puny conceptions,
and have provoked violent revolt."

This is precisely what Agnostics contend for. They do not deny
that, in the course of evolution, certain feelings and aspirations have
grown up and come to be part of the mental furniture of civilized nations,
which find a poetical expression in the ideas of God and of immortality.
They simply deny that we have, or ever can have, any certain, definite,
and scientific knowledge respecting these mysteries. To take an instance,
that of the pre-existence of the soul before birth. We recognize a certain
poetical truth in Wordsworth's noble ode when he asserts this pre-exist-
ence, and tells us that in infancy

" Trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home."

But we do not accept it as a known or knowable fact. We have abso-
lutely no experience of any consciousness or personal identity before birth,
or as existing otherwise than in association with the matter and energy of
our corporeal body. No more have we of any continuance of that iden-
tity after death. It is "behind the veil," in that great region of the
" Unknowable," where nothing is known, and therefore all things are
possible. Here Agnosticism comes in as a powerful auxiliary to those
emotions and aspirations which constitute what is called "religion."
It is the best of all arguments against Atheism and Materialism, for, if
we cannot prove an affirmative, still less can we prove a negative. No
man who understands what knowledge really means can affirm that any
conception of what may exist in the great Unknowable which compasses


us about on every side, is impossible. He can only call it impossible
when it conflicts with known facts and laws; but as long as it remains in
the region of poetical imagination or moral emotion he cannot disprove
it, and may even, if he finds consolation or guidance from it, give it a
sort of provisional assent. Thus no Agnostic can deny that, if he had
faculties to see Him, there might be in the Unknowable a Divine spirit or
substratum, bearing some resemblance to what enlightened men under-
stand by the term "God"; that there may be a Divine eye watching his
every thought and recording his every action ; and he will not be acting
unwisely if he endeavors to mould his life as if this were a true supposi-
tion. Only he does not pretend to know this as a dogma or certain truth,
and therefore he does not quarrel with any brother-man who thinks differ-
ently, or who fancies that he has more certain assurance. Christian
morality he recognizes fully, not as taught by the later inventions of
churches and casuists, but as displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus,
the son of the carpenter of Nazareth, as they stand out, when stripped of
their mythical and supernatural attributes, in the narrative of the Gospels.
He looks on these moral precepts as the results of a long process of evo-
lution in the best minds of the best races, and not as arbitrary rules, in-
vented for the first time, and imposed from without by miraculous
teaching ; and he sees in Jesus simply the brightest example and best
model of a large class of the virtues which are most needed to make prac-
tical lif< para, lovely, and of good repute. In this sense may we not all
shake hands in 'cue near future and be "Christian Agnostics" ?

The tide is already running breast-high in this direction. During the
last half-century how many of the foremost men o? ueht and leading have
drifted towards orthodox Christianity, and how many away from it?
Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Carlyle, Mill, all the great thinkers
who have influenced the currents of modern thought, are men who had
renounced all belief in the traditional theories of miracles and inspiration,
and who, a few centuries earlier, would have been burned as heretics.
The conversions have been all one way. Darwin, greatest of all, was an
orthodox believer in his early life, and had even contemplated taking
orders before he embarked on his mission of naturalist to the expedition
of the Beagle. In his case no violent impulse or sudden crisis changed
his views ; but the theological mists simply melted away as the sun of
Science rose higher above his horizon. Patiently he worked out his great
work, guided solely by his unswerving allegiance to truth, until his con-
ception of the universe as the product, not of innumerable supernatural
interferences, but of evolution by natural law, became the creed of all
men of all countries who are able to appreciate scientific facts and evi-

But Darwin and men of scientific training are not the only ones who
have exchanged the old for the new standpoint. Conversions have been
even more remarkable among eminent leaders in literature and philoso-


phy, who were brought up in the strictest traditions of the old religious
beliefs. In another work ' I have called attention to the fact that, if ever
there were three minds trained under the strongest influences binding
them to typical though different forms of faith in Christian theology, they
are Carlyle, George Eliot, and Renan. Carlyle was a Puritan of the
Puritans, bred in a farm-house, whose inmates might have been Cove-
nanters who fought against Claverhouse at Drumclog; George Eliot was,
in her surroundings and early life, a typical representative of middle-class
English Evangelicalism ; Renan of the simple Catholic piety of Breton
peasants, developed in an ecclesiastical seminary. How came they, all
three, to break away, with a painful wrench, from old ideas and associa-
tions, and become leaders of advanced thought ? How, indeed, except
that they were sincere searchers after truth, and that truth compelled
them ? If the case for miracles and the inspiration of the Bible had been
convincing or even plausible, is it conceivable that Carlyle, George Eliot,
and Renan should have all three rejected it ? Where are the conversions
that can be shown in the opposite direction ? Where the leading minds
which, bred in the doctrine of Darwinism, have abandoned it for the
doctrine of St. Athanasius or of Calvin ? The few eminent men who still
adhere to the old theology, such as Cardinal Newman and Mr. Gladstone,
are all of the old generation which is passing away. Where are their
successors ? Where are the rising naturalists who are to refute Darwin ?
where the young geologists who are to dethrone Lyell? where the Biblical
critics who are to answer Strauss ?

Perhaps the best proof of the irresistible force of the movement is
afforded by the attitude of those who still remain within the pale of the
Church and are among its most distinguished members. Three eminent
Bishops of the Anglican Church preached sermons in Manchester Cathe~
dral, during the meeting of the British Association there in 1887, which
were published in a pamphlet, under the title of The Advance of Science.
They adopt the doctrine of Evolution and the conclusions of modern
science so frankly that Huxley, reviewing them in the Nineteenth Century,
says that "theology, acting under the generous impulse of a sudden
conversion, has given up everything to science, and, indeed, on one
point, has surrendered more than can reasonably be asked." Other
bishops, it is true, denounce this as "an effort to get up a non-miracu-
lous invertebrate Christianity," and assert that " Christianity is essentially
miraculous, and falls to the ground if miracles never happened. " Per-
fectly true of the old theological Christianity; but, if this is the only
Christianity, it is its sentence of death, for it is becoming more and more
plain every day that it is as impossible for sincere and educated men to
believe in Scripture miracles as it is to believe that the sun stood still in
the Valley of Ajalon, or that the world was peopled from pairs of animals
shut up, a few centuries ago, in Noah's Ark.

1 Modem Science and Modern Thought.


These truths are rapidly passing from the schools into the streets, and
becoming the commonplace possessions of the rank-and-file of thinkers.
Thus, in a lower plane of thought and among the strictest sect of be-
lievers, we find Spurgeon complaining that, whereas " twenty years ago
there was no question of fundamental truth (brethren used to controvert
this or that point; but they were at least agreed that whatever the Script-
ure said should be decisive), now, however, it did not matter what
Scripture said ; it was rather a question of their own inner consciousness. "
And, again, that ' ' the position of sitting on the fence is the popular one.
There are two or three very learned men who are trying to get down on
both sides of the fence at once. "

There is something touching in the spectacle of a man like Spurgeon
thus finding the solid earth giving way and heaving under his feet, and
even the preachers of his own persuasion lapsing into views inconsistent
with his own rigid orthodoxy. But does it never occur to him to ask
himself why the landmarks are thus drifting steadily past him all in one
direction ? Is it a question of inner consciousness and human perversity,
or is it' not rather that a flood-tide of advancing knowledge and allegiance
to truth is really setting in and running with increasing velocity ?

Another significant symptom of the times is that the popular novel of
the day, Robert Elsmere, is a life-history of the conversion of a clergyman
of noble nature and cultivated mind from orthodoxy to a faith which I
have endeavored to explain in these pages and elsewhere as "Agnostic
Christianity," or "Christianity without miracles." The gifted authoress
describes the process by which his belief in miracles is gradually un-
dermined, and, while his love and admiration for the human Jesus comes
out stronger than ever, he feels it impossible to remain in a Church which
demands assent to such dogmas as those of the Logos, the Resurrection
and the Atonement. Accordingly, he resigns his living, and devotes him-
self to a life of active charity in the East-end of London, where he labors
to found a new religion which shall satisfy reason by rejecting revelation,
while it satisfies emotion by dwelling on the lovely character of the
carpenter's son of Nazareth. The hero dies, and the new religion remains
a pious aspiration; but it is a sign of the altered atmosphere of the times
that, instead of being received with a howl of execration, the book is
favorably accepted by so many readers as a true picture of the course of
modern thought, and as presenting an ideal of what may possibly become
the religion of the future. It is a significant symptom of that drift which
is setting in from so many lines of thought, irresistible as that of the stars of
heaven, away from orthodoxy and towards Agnostic Christianity.



A SSUMING as I do that some form of liberal and reverent Agnosti-
^Tx cism is certain to supersede old theological and metaphysical
creeds in our conceptions of the universe, it remains to consider how this
will practically affect the machinery and outward form of religion, and,
what is of more importance, the interests of morality.

In stating the results of my reflections on this subject I am far from
wishing to dogmatize, or, like Comte, to build up any positive religion
of the future, which, like his, might be comprehensively summed up as
" Catholicism without Christianity." I know too well that religions, like
other social institutions, are evolved and not manufactured, and that re-
ligious rites and institutions only flourish when they are a spontaneous
growth. Nevertheless, I think the time has come when the intellectual
victory of Agnosticism is so far assured that it behoves thinking men to
begin to consider what practical results are likely to follow from it.

The first question is as to the effect on morals. Those who cling to
old creeds make great use of the argument that religion is the best of
policemen, and that, if faith in a future state of rewards and punishments,
as taught by an inspired Bible, were once shaken, all security for life and
property would be at an end. This, if it were true, would be no argu-
ment, any more than the fact that a nurse may occasionally quiet a
naughty child by the threat of a bogey, would prove the existence of a
black man with horns and a tail in the cupboard. But it is distinctly
untrue. The foundations of morals are fortunately built on solid rock,
and not on shifting sand; they are based on ideas and feelings which, in
the course of the evolution of the human race, have gradually become in-
stinctive in civilized communities, and passed beyond the sphere of
abstract reasonings or speculative criticisms. So far from morality being
a thing altogether apart from human nature, and which owes its obligation
solely to its being a revelation of God's will, it may be truly said in a great
many cases that, as individuals and nations become more sceptical, they be-
come more moral. Thus, for instance, an implicit belief in the inspiration
of the Old Testament perverted the moral sense to such an extent that the
most monstrous cruelties were inflicted in the name of religion. Mur-



ders, adulteries, witchcraft, religious wars and persecutions, all found
their origin and excuse in texts either expressly enjoining them, or show-
ing that they formed part of the character and conduct of men "after
Jehovah's own heart" We no longer burn heretics, torture old women,
or hew captives in pieces before the Lord. Why ? Because we have be-
come sceptical, and no longer believe in the Bible as an infallible record
of God's word. When we find anything in it contrary either to the facts
of science or to the moral instincts of the age in which we live, we quietly
ignore it; and, instead of trying Science and Morality, as our fore-
fathers did, at the bar of Inspiration, we reverse the process and bring
Religion before the bar of Reason.

Is the world better or worse for this latest phase of its evolution ? Is it
more or less tolerant, humane, liberal-minded, charitable, than it was in
the ages of superstitious faith ? The answer is not doubtful, and it con-
firms my position that, as a matter of fact, as we have become more scep-
tical we have become more moral.

1 1 there is one fact more certain than another in the history of evolu-
"101., .t :s a* ':v>r?1s have been evolved by the same laws as regulate the
development of species. They were no more created, or taught super-
naturally, than were the various successive forms of animal and vegetable
life. Take, for instance, the simplest case the abhorrence of murder.
It is not an implanted and universal instinct, for even at the present day we
find sections of the human race among whom murder is honorable. The
Dyak maiden scorns a lover who has not taken a head; the Indian squaw
tests a suitor's manhood by the number of scalps in his wigwam, and the
more they were taken by stratagem and treachery the more honorable are
they esteemed. The priest and prophet of ancient Israel considered it an
act of duty towards Jehovah to hew Agag to pieces before the Lord; and
Jael was famous among Hebrew women because she drove a nail into the
head of the sleeping refugee who had sought shelter within her tent.
David, the man after God's own heart, committed the most treacherous
and cold-blooded murder in order to screen a foul act of adultery. Where
in those cases was either the implanted instinct or the recognition of a
divine precept commanding " Thou shalt do no murder " ? Millions of
Brahmins and Buddhists, who never heard of Moses or of the command-
ments inscribed on the table of stone at Sinai, have carried the abhorrence
of murder to such an extreme as to shrink from destroying even the hum-
blest form of animal life, while millions of savages have killed and eaten
strangers and captives without scruple or remorse.

Evidently moral ideas are, like other products of evolution, the result
of the interaction of the two factors, heredity and environment, deter-
mined in the course of ages by natural selection. They may be seen in
the simplest form in the instinct of all social animals, from ants and bees
up to man, which makes them abstain from injuring those of the same
nest or herd, and prompts them to act together for the common good,


Those who had this instinct strongest would be most likely to survive in
the struggle for existence, and each successive generation would tend to
fix the instinct more strongly by heredity. What is instinct? In the last
analysis it is motion, or tendency to motion, of certain nerve-cells, which
have become so fixed, by frequent practice or by heredity, that they be-
come unconscious, and follow necessarily on impulses from without, as
in the act of breathing or swallowing. The simpler instincts, as in the
case of animals, are the most spontaneous and inevitable. The duckling
swims, to the alarm of the mother hen, because it is the descendant of
generations of ducks which have taken to the water as their natural ele-
ment The sight of water sets up certain motions in the duckling's brain
which, by reflex action, impel it to swim.

But, in higher organizations and more complicated instincts, what is
inherited is not so much absolute motion as tendency to motion. The
almost infinitely complex molecules of the higher brain do not move
mechanically, so as to produce a definite result from a definite impulse,
but they move more readily in certain directions than in others, those
directions being determined partly by the ancestral channels in which
they have run for generations, and partly by the action of the surround-
ing environment. Thus it may be accepted as certain that a child born
and educated in England in the nineteenth century will, as a rule, grow
up with an instinctive abhorrence of murder; but it is not so certain as
that it will breathe and eat. A very violent outward impulse, such as
greed or revenge, may overcome the instinct; and if the child had been
kidnapped in infancy and brought up among Dyaks or Indians, its notions
would probably have been the same as theirs as to the taking of heads or
scalps. But, speaking generally of modern civilized societies, there is
such an enormous preponderance in favor of the fundamental rules of
morality, that with each successive generation the results both of heredity
and environment tend more and more to make them instinctive. The
lines which Tennyson, the great poet of modern thought, puts into the lips
of his Goddess of Wisdom

" And because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence "

are becoming more and more every day the instinct, not of higher minds
only, but of the mass of the community.

Such a foundation for morals is clearly both more certain and more
comprehensive than one based on doubtful revelations. It is more cer-
tain, for it does not depend on evidence which, with the progress of
science, is fast becoming incredible. The command not to murder is not
weakened by proof that the book of unknown origin and date which con-
tains it, gives a totally erroneous account of the creation, and is therefore
not inspired; nor does adultery cease to be a crime because the narrative
of Noah's deluge is shown to be fabulous. It is also more comprehensive,


for no hard-and-fast written code can long conform to the conditions of
an ever-varying society. It will err both by enjoining things which have
become obsolete, and by omitting others which have become imperative.
Thus the Mosaic code classes sculptors with murderers and thieves, and
makes Canova and Thorwaldsen as great offenders against Divine com-
mands as the last criminal who was convicted at the Old Bailey. On the
other hand, there is no injunction against slavery or polygamy, but, on
the contrary, an implied sanction of them, from the example of the
patriarchs who are held up as patterns of holiness. The feeling against
slavery is a conspicuous instance of the development of a moral instinct in
quite recent times. It is the result of advancing civilization leading to
more humane ideas, and to a clearer recognition of the intrinsic sacredness
and dignity of every human soul.

In like manner, a multitude of moral ideas have come to be part of
our mental furniture which had no place in the early code of the Jews, or
even in the more advanced period of early Christianity. The Christian
ideal, to a great extent, ignored courage, hardihood, self-reliance, fore-
sight, providence, and all the sterner and harder qualities that make the
man, for the softer and more feminine virtues of love, patience, and resig-
nation. The aesthetic side of life also, the recognition and love of all
that is beautiful in art and nature, was not only ignored, but to a great
extent condemned by it, owing to an exaggerated and one-sided antithesis
between the flesh and the spirit.

Among the modern ideas which are fast becoming moral instincts is
that of the duty of following truth for its own sake. Doubt is no longer
regarded as a crime, but as a duty, when there are real grounds for
doubting. We may parody the words of the poet and say

" And because truth is truth, to follow truth
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence."

And this allegiance to truth carries with it the virtue of sincerity. A
man must not palter with his convictions, and profess to hold one set of
opinions because they are expedient, while he holds others because they
are true. If it be a fact that the human race has risen by evolution
through long ages from palaeolithic savagery, he has no right to admit the
fact and at the same time profess to believe that he is a fallen creature de-
scended from the Biblical Adam. His duty is to use his reason to ascer-
tain which statement is true, and, having done so, to the best of his
ability and without bias or prejudice, to cleave with his whole heart to the
truth, and not remain a miserable, half-hearted Mr. Facing-both-ways.
So far, therefore, as morality is concerned, we need not much concern
ourselves about the future of religion. Morality can take care of itself,
and, with or without theological creeds, it will go on strengthening,
widening, and purifying its instinctive holds on the character and conduct
of civilized communities. As regards conduct, which is, after all, the

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