Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/349

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3. The supernatural, or above Nature.

In investigating any new claims whatever, experts—consciously or unconsciously—keep this order in mind: they first inquire whether the claims can be explained by laws already known to experts; if not so explained, then they are referred to the second order—the unknown in Nature—and attempts are made to bring them into the first order, or the known in Nature: such is the philosophy of all human progress in science. But when men go further, and assert that these unknown phenomena are of supernatural character, they bid good-by to the scientific method; for what is it that constitutes the differential diagnosis between the unknown in Nature and the supernatural? It matters not, in its bearings on this question, how the supernatural is defined, as the unusual action of natural laws or interference with natural law. The supernatural manifested becomes, relatively to the human faculties, the natural. For all that we know, or can know, every great or minute phenomenon in Nature may be a direct, immediate, and special act of a power above Nature: the movement of every star, each vibration of the infinite ether, the shock of earthquakes, and the silent meaning of protoplasm, may all be manifestations of a power above Nature; but, whether they are so or not, the human mind is powerless to prove or disprove. The universe might swarm with demons and angels; ghosts might inhabit the earth and sky, in numbers compared with which the population of the globe is as the seen to the unseen stars; spirits might speak, might rap, might materialize—and yet the human mind would be unable to scientifically prove the supernatural, for still the question, how to distinguish what is above Nature from what is unknown in Nature, would remain unanswered and unanswerable.

Science has not, cannot have, any absolute deduction against the existence of ghosts, or of spirits, evil or good, or of any imaginable supernatural shapes whatsoever; the world might be embraced and permeated by an infinite spiritual ocean, as the air is believed to be penetrated by a luminiferous ether; but science would not have, and could not find, either through induction or deduction, any way of demonstrating its existence. In the realm of the supposed supernatural all things are possible and all things are undemonstrable.[1] Under this class of claims, that from the limitations of the human brain can neither

  1. Although it hardly comes within the scope of the present outline to point out all the practical bearings of this reform in logic, one thought may perhaps be briefly suggested. For the cause of religion, it is fortunate that it cannot be scientifically proved. Religion, being a recognition through the emotions of a spiritual universe and of our relations to it, cannot and should not appeal to the intellect. A religion scientifically proved would be a religion no longer, but a fact of science, like the Copernican theory, or gravitation, and, like these and other scientific facts, would be taken cognizance of by the intellect alone, consequently it would lose entirely the leverage of the emotions, by which it has so powerfully influenced the destinies of mankind. The scientific demonstration of religion would be the destruction of religion.