Thomas G. (Thomas George) Gentry.

Intelligence in plants and animals: online

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4/o Life and Immortality.

referred to from Ecclesiastes, reads : " Who knoweth the
spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast
that goeth downward to the earth ?" Now, it is upon the
strength of these two passages that we are called upon to
believe that when a beast dies its life, like that of an expired
lamp, goes out forever. Nothing is more dangerous in the
exposition of Scripture than attempting to explain a pas-
sage, however simple it may seem to be, without reference to
the original text, for the translator may have mistaken the
true sense of the words, or he may have inadequately
expressed their signification, or, owing to a change in meaning,
the words of a passage may now bear an exactly contrary
sense to that conveyed when they were first written.

But laying aside this point for the present, and accepting
the passage as it stands, as well as the literal meaning of the
words as generally understood, there can be no doubt that
we must believe that beasts are not possessed of immortal
life. If, however, we are to take the literal sense of the
Bible, and no other, we are equally forced to believe that
man has no life after death. The book of Psalms is full of
examples. Let us take a few from the many that might be
given : " In death there is no remembrance of thee : in the
grave, who shall give thee thanks? " " The dead praise not
the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." " His
breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth ; in that very
day his thoughts perish." Taken solely in their literal sense,
there can be no doubt of their meaning. Nothing more
gloomy, dreary or more despondent can be found in the
entire range of heathen literature than these passages, and
others that might be quoted from the inspired Psalmist, in
the contemplation of death. In the very book from which
the single passage was taken, which is claimed to deny immor-
tality to the lower animals, there are five times as many passages
that proclaim the same sad end to the life of man. We are
distinctly and definitely told therein that those who have
died have no remembrance of God, and cannot praise Him.

Man's Preeminence. 471

Death has been spoken of as the " land of forgetfulness "
the place of darkness, where all man's thoughts perish.
Certainly no more than this can be said of the " beasts that

Other holy writers make similar affirmations. Speaking
of mankind in general, who " dwell in houses of clay," Job
says : " They are destroyed from morning to evening ; they
perish forever, without any regarding it." Again he says,
and the passage is more definite than the preceding : " As
the. cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth
down to the grave shall come up no more." And still again :
" Man dieth, and wasteth away : yea, man giveth up the
ghost, and where is he ? As the waters fail from the sea,
and the flood decayeth and drieth up : so man lieth down,
and riseth not." Chapters III and X tell of the piteous
lamentations of Job over his life, wherein he complains that
he ever was born, that existence was ever given to him, that
he was ever taken from a state of absolute nonentity, and
that even death itself can bring no relief to his miseries
except extinction.

Turning to Ecclesiastes, in which book occurs the solitary
passage which is held to disprove a future existence to the
lower animals, there are passages which are even more
emphatic as to the immortality of man. Read what is
declared : " I said in my heart concerning the estate of the
sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they
might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which
befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts ; even one thing
befalleth them. As the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea,
they have all one breath, so that a man has no preeminence
over a beast : for all is vanity. All go unto one place ; all
are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." Further it is
said : " For the living know that they shall die, but the dead
know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for
the memory of them is forgotten." " Whatsoever thy hand
findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no

472 Life and Immortality.

work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave
whither thou goest." Literally interpreted, no one can
doubt the import of these words from Ecclesiastes, for they
definitely state that, as regards a future life, there is no
distinction between man and beast, and that when they die
they all go to the same place. It is also distinctly stated
that after death man can do no work, know nothing, nor
receive any reward. Were we to deduce our ideas of the
condition of man after death from the irrepressibly sad and
gloomy passages from Job and Ecclesiastes, most deplorable
and hopeless would be the very thought of dissolution. But
we do not accept them in this light. They are written sym-
bolically, and there underlies them a spiritual sense. It is
not, however, the latter sense that concerns us at present,
but the literal meaning of the translation, and, according to
that literal meaning, if we take two texts to prove that beasts
have no future life, we are compelled by no less than four-
teen passages to believe that man, in common with beasts,
has no better prospect. We have no right to say which
passages are to be taken literally, and which parabolically,
but must apply the same test to all alike, and treat all in a
similar manner.

All classical readers are familiar with that wonderful
eleventh book of Homer's Odyssey, called the Necyomanteia,
or Invocation of the Dead, in which Ulysses is depicted as
descending into the regions of departed spirits for the pur-
pose of invoking them and obtaining advice as to his future
adventures. Dreary, and horrible indeed, are the revelations
which the whole of the strange history makes of the condi-
tion of the future life. All is wild and dark, and hunger,
thirst and discontent prevail. Nothing is heard of elysian
fields, where piety, wisdom and virtue abound. Gloom,
misery and vain regrets for earth pervade the entire episode.
When is considered this heathen poet's ideas concerning the
future state of man, it is no wonder that sensual pleasures
should be held as the principal object of his life when he is

Man's Preeminence. 473

to look forward to such a future, a future from which neither
wisdom, nor virtue, nor piety could save him, and where there
is nothing but an eternity of gloom, remorse and hopeless
despondency. Sad as this picture is, yet it is far brighter
than that of the Psalmist, the Preacher, or Job. Those who
have passed into the world of spirits still retain their indi-
viduality after death, being distinguished in the spirit as they
had been in the flesh. Memory survives the body's death.
Naught of their earthly career is forgotten. They still have
an interest in their friends that remain in the body whom
they love, and over whose well-being they unceasingly
watch. No such consolation, as has been described, exists
in the future state of man if the passages of Scripture that
have been quoted are taken in a literal sense. Man, in that
event, passes at death into a place of darkness, forgetfulness
and silence, where there is no work, nor device, nor knowl-
edge, nor wisdom, and where even his very thoughts perish.
No other interpretation, if taken literally, can be put upon
them, for the statements are too explicit to be explained
away or softened.

In the outward sense of their writings the Psalmist,
Job and the Preacher are on an equality with Horace in
their absolute unbelief in a future existence, and in a
consequent desire to snatch what fleeting pleasures they
can from earth before the inexorable law of fate consigns
them to dark oblivion. Startling as it may seem to compare
the teachings of a Greek idolater and of a Latin Epicurean
heathen with those of sacred writers, yet it is still more start-
ling to show that the teachings of the Epicurean sensualist
are not a whit wiser than those of the Scriptural writer, while
those of the Greek poet are very much better. Such, how-
ever, is the fact, and, if we are to be bound by the literal inter-
pretatation of the Scriptures, there is no possibility of deny-
ing it without doing violence to reason and common-sense.

We are now brought face to face with the point previously
mentioned. Does the authorized version give a full and

474 Life and Immortality.

correct interpretation of the original ? It is claimed that it
does not. The word " perish," it is said, does not occur at
all in the Hebrew text, nor is even the idea expressed. No
such translation as " beasts that perish," which appears
twice in our version, is justified by the Hebrew, the words
of the original implying " dumb beasts." The idea of per-
ishing, in the sense of annihilation, does not seem to be
implied. Let us take the Jewish Bible, which is acknowl-
edged to be the best and closest translation in the English
language, and examine it. Both in verses 12 and 20 of
Psalms XLIX, where the passage occurs, the rendering
reads : " Man that is in honor, and understandeth this not, is
like the beasts tJiat are irrational." As an alternative read-
ing for " irrational," the word " dumb " is given in a foot-
note. A somewhat similar reading is found in the Septu-
agint, which, according to Brunton, runs as follows : " Man
that is in honor understands not ; he is compared to the
senseless cattle, and is like them." In WyclifFe's Bible,
which is a translation from the Vulgate, the passage is ren-
dered : " A man whanne he was in honour understood not ;
he is comparisoned to unwise beestis, and is maad lijk
to tho." The " Douay " Bible, made by the English
Roman Catholic College of Douay, and which is the
version accepted by that branch of the Church in Eng-
land, renders the passage : " Man, when he was in honor,
did not understand ; he hath been compared to sense-
less beasts and made like to them." Numerous other
translations might be adduced, and it is safe to say that
scarcely any of them imply the idea of perishing in the
sense of being reduced to nothing. Even supposing that
the word " perish " is translated correctly, it does not there-
fore follow that annihilation is meant. Take the tenth verse
of the same Psalm in our authorized version : " For he
seeth that wise men die, and likewise the fool and the brutish
person perish, and leave their wealth to others." Surely no
sensible, intelligent person would construe this passage into

Man's Preeminence.

a declaration that the wise and fool and brutish had no exist-
ence after the death of the body.

That the last verse of the Psalm is a summary of the whole
poem, seems not improbable. A vivid picture of the true
object of man's life in this world is drawn by the Psalmist,
and also of his tendency to lose sight thereof. In it he sets
forth the shortness of human existence, and shows that
neither riches, station in life, nor fame, which appertain to
the mere earthly career of man, can endure after his death.
He, therefore, reasonably concludes that men who fix their
hearts upon these earthly vanities ignore the honor of their
manhood, and degrade themselves to the plane of the dumb
beasts, whose operations are, as far as we know, restricted to
this present world.

From what has been adduced it will at once be evident
that the idea that beasts are said by the Psalmist to have no
future life may be dismissed from our minds, and that the
passage may be rejected as totally irrelevant to the subject.
This is of the greatest importance, as the passage in question
is the only one which even appears to make any definite
statement as to the condition of the lower animals after death.
Every reasonable person will now see how essential it is that
the true meaning of the Hebrew text should be known, and
that the Psalmist should not be charged with the introduction
of a doctrine to which, whether true or false, he makes not
the. slightest reference.

Having settled beyond the possibility of refutation the
true meaning implied by the "beasts that perish," we
will now turn to the passage in Ecclesiastes, which, as has
been seen, is the only one which contains any direct refer-
ence to the future of the lower orders of animal existence:
" Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and
the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?"
exclaimeth the Preacher. Here we have an admission that,
whether the spirit ascend or descend, both man and beasts do
have spirits, and these are undoubtedly the same in essence, for

476 Life and Immortality.

the Hebrew word is identical is both cases. In the Jewish
Bible the rendering is verbatim the same as that of our
authorized version. Read, instead of an isolated verse, the
entire passage :

" I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of
men, that God might manifest them, and that they might
see that they themselves are beasts.

" For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts ;
even the one thing befalleth them : as the one dieth, so
dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a
man hath no preeminence above a beast : for all is vanity.

" All go to one place ; all are of the same dust, and all
turn to dust again.

" Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and
the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth ?

" Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than
that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his
portion ; for who shall bring him to see what shall be after

Every page of Ecclesiastes breathes of the self-reproach
of the Preacher for a wasted life. Speaking from his own
sad, bitter experience, he shows that riches, glory, pleasure
and even wisdom are nothing but utter emptiness. The
same theme pervades the forty-ninth Psalm, but the Psalmist
treats it with grave solemnity, admonishing his hearers of
the shortness of human life, and showing that if a man for-
gets the glory of his manhood, made in the image of God,
he puts himself on the level of the dumb brutes. Though
reaching the same conclusion, yet the Preacher views the
subject from a different standpoint. Employing biting sar-
casm rather than solemn warning, he exposes the vanity of
all worldly and selfish pleasures, and the miserable fate that
awaits the voluptuary, and then ironically advises his readers
to place in such their entire happiness.

So palpable is the bitter irony of the author throughout
the book, and even in the twenty-first verse of the third

Man's Preeminence. 477

chapter, yet by no manner of interpretation can this
specialized text be made to mean that beasts are anni T
hilated after death, while men rise again and soar above
earthly things to honor and glory. Ironically the writer
assumes in it that his readers do not know the difference
between the spirit of man and that of beast, and, reasoning
from that position, advises them that " there is nothing
better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that
he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor."

From what has been shown, it is evident that the passage
from Psalms does not even contain the idea of annihilation
as regards beasts, and that the one from Ecclesiastes is
entirely misapprehended. That they have no bearing upon
the subject must now be manifest. We cannot, therefore,
resist the conclusion that the Scriptures do not deny future
life to the inferior animals.

This admission gives courage for a step still further
forward. Man's latest achievement is to conceive that all
existence is a unit. One spirit pervades the whole natural
world, an emanation from the Spirit of Him who sitteth
enthroned in the Eternal Heavens, and who not only is, as
Moses declares, " God of the spirits of all flesh," but God
of the spirits of all animate nature. We cannot divorce the
two great kingdoms of nature. If there is a futurity of
existence for man, whom we are told was " made a little
lower than the angels," but who in these latter days seems
to have deteriorated, and who in thousands of instances
displays a character far less noble and honorable than that
of the dog which he kennels and feeds, then there must be
for the so-called brute, the companion of his joys and his
sorrows. If for beast, bird, reptile, fish and insect, and none
can be so foolish in the face of the most indubitable evidence
to deny it, then there must be for tree, shrub and flower,
for God, who is infinite in love, mercy and charity, would
not be God if solely concerned with the future of the
smallest fractional part of His children. Man is psychically

478 Life and Immortality.

related to all life. There is soul, in some sort of develop-
ment, in everything; and certainly God meant in His grand
scheme of redemption to lift the world, not a portion of it, but
the entire world, out of its lower ideas into its higher
beauties and realities.


THAT the Scriptures, contrary to popular tradition, do
not deny a future life to the lower animals has already
been conclusively shown. But do they declare anything in
favor of another world for beast as well as for man ? This
is a question which we shall now endeavor to answer. As
to man's immortality, the Old Testament Scriptures teach
the doctrine by inference rather than by direct assertion, for
the reason, as has been presumed, that the writers of the
several books, which were selected at a comparatively late
period from among many others and formed into the volume
popularly designated the Bible, assumed as a matter of
course that man was immortal, and therefore did not concern
themselves about a matter which they supposed everybody
knew. But as far as the Old Testament goes, inference tells
more strongly in favor of the beast's immortality than that
of man. Although in either case there does not appear to
be any definite assertion of a futurity of existence, yet there
is no such denial of the immortality of the beast as has
already been shown in the case of the man.

Beasts, as readers of the Old Testament only too well
know, were included in the merciful provision of the Sab-
bath, which, in its essence, was a spiritual and not simply a
physical ordinance. And, again, we find many provisions
in the ancient Scriptures against maltreating the lower ani-
mals, or giving them unnecessary pain, and these provis-
ions stand side by side in the Divine Law with those which
apply to man. All are familiar with the prohibition of
" seething a kid in its mother's milk," and the non-muzzling

480 Life and Immortality.

of the ox in treading out the corn lest he should suffer the
pangs of hunger in the presence of the food which he may
not eat. Even bird's nesting was regulated by Divine Law.
" If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any
tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs,
and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs,
thou shalt not take the dam with the young : But thou
shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to
thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest
prolong thy days." Moreover, as many animals must be
killed daily, some for sacrifice and others solely for food, the
strictest regulations were enjoined that their death should be
sharp and quick, and that the whole of their blood should
be poured out upon the ground lest they suffer lingering

In keeping with the same consideration felt by Deity
towards the kid and ox and bird, as expressed in the Law,
we would refer to the few concluding sentences of the Book
of Jonah :

" Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou
hast not labored, neither madest it grow ; which came up in
a night, and perished in a night.

" And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein
are more than six score thousand persons that cannot dis-
cern between their right hand and their left hand ; and also
much cattle?"

" Every beast of the forest is mine," saith the Lord, " and
the cattle upon a thousand hills." And again, " I know all
the fowls of the mountains : and the wild beasts of the field
are mine." Similar passages, in which God announces him-
self as the protector of the beast as well as of man, could be
given, for the Scriptures are full of them. Who does not
recall the well-known saying of our Lord respecting the
lives of the sparrows : " Are not two sparrows sold for a
farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground with-
out the notice of your Father."

Future Life. 48 1

Cowperinhis "Task," makes allusion to this branch of
our subject in the following lines :

" Man may dismiss compassion from his heart,
But God will never. When He charged the Jew
To assist his foe's down-fallen beast to rise ;
And when the bush-exploring boy, that seized
The young, to let the parent-bird go free ;
Proved He not plainly that His meaner works,
Are yet His care, and have an interest all
All in the universal Father's love ? "

One passage there is which certainly does point to a future
for the beast as well as for man, and which places them both
on the very same plane. It is found in Genesis, ninth chap-
ter and fifth verse, and constitutes a part of the law
which was delivered to Noah, and which was subsequently
incorporated in the fuller law given through Moses. " And
surely your blood of your lives will I require," said God to
Noah and his sons, " at the hand of every beast will I
require it, and at the hand of every man ; at the hand of
every man's brother will I require the life of man." In
Exodus, chapter twenty-one and twenty-eighth verse, we
read, " If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die : then
the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be
eaten ; but the owner of the ox shall be quit."

While there are no passages of Scripture, as has been
seen, which deny immortality of life to the lower animals,
yet there are certainly some which tend to show it by infer-
ence. But the Scriptures were written for human beings,
and not for the lower animals, and therefore it could hardly
be expected that any information could be gained therefrom
on the subject. As we find so few direct references to the
future state of man, it is not at all to be expected that we
should receive direct instruction upon the after-life of the

But just as man has had within himself for untold ages an
intuitive witness to his own immortality, yet there are those,

482 Life and Immortality.

lovers and friends of the so-called brute, who have an instinct-
ive sense that animals, some of whom surpass in love,
unselfishness, generosity, conscience and self-sacrifice many
of their human brethren, must share with him in addition to
these virtues an immortal spirit in which they take their rise.
No more eminent personage than Bishop Butler was a believer
in this idea. Substantially he asserts that the Scriptures
give no reasons why the lower animals should not possess
immortal souls. Similar sentiments have been voiced by
equally distinguished writers.

Southey, writing of the death of a favorite spaniel that had
been the companion of his boyhood, says :

"Ah, poor companion ! when thou followedst last
Thy master's parting footsteps to the gate
Which closed forever on him, thou didst lose
Thy best friend, and none was left to plead
For the old age of brute fidelity.
But fare thee well. Mine is no narrowed creed ;
And He who gave thee being did not frame
The mystery of Life to be the sport
Of merciless man. There is another world
For all that live and move a better one !
Where the proud bipeds, who would fain confine
Infinite Goodness to the little bounds
Of their own charity, may envy thee."

Thus does Lamartine, in " Jocelyn's Episode," beautifully
express himself in addressing a faithful and affectionate
canine by the name of Fido :

" I cannot, will not, deem thee a deceiving,

Illusive mockery of human feeling,

A body organized, by fond caress

Warmed into seeming tenderness ;

A mere automaton, on which our love

Plays, as on puppets, when their wires we move.

No ! when that feeling quits thy glazing eye,
Twill live in some blest world beyond the sky."

Future Life. 483

Not by man alone have these higher qualities been
accorded to the brute. Women have praised the good within
the lower animals, and been quite as willing to share with
them the benefits of an immortal life. Eugenie de Guerin, a
woman distinguished for her devotional piety, and an author
of no mean repute, was, like the most of her sex, quite pas-

Online LibraryThomas G. (Thomas George) GentryIntelligence in plants and animals: → online text (page 35 of 36)