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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/404

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

actually existing thus or thus without committing ourselves to alternative absurdities; yet questions are put implying that I must hold one or other hypothesis concerning these actual existences, and I am supposed to be involved in all the difficulties which arise.

 

Another work devoted to the refutation of my views is that of Professor Birks—"Modern Physical Fatalism and the Doctrine of Evolution, including an Examination of Mr. H. Spencer's First Principles." Having dealt with the work of Mr. Guthrie, I can not pass by that of Professor Birks without raising the suspicion that I find some difficulty in dealing with it. Indeed, I do find a difficulty—a difficulty illustrated by that found in disentangling a skein of silk which has been pulled about by a child for half an hour. And just as the patience of a bystander would fail were he asked to look on until, by unraveling the tangled skein, its continuity was proved, so would the reader's attention be exhausted before I had rectified one tenth part of the meshes and knots into which Professor Birks has twisted my statements.

Abundant warrant for this assertion is furnished by the very first paragraph succeeding the one in which Professor Birks announces that he is about to take "First Principles" as representative of the "fatalistic theory." In this paragraph he represents me as asserting that ultimate religious ideas are "incapable of being conceived." He further says that ultimate scientific ideas are by me "pronounced equally inconceivable." Now, any clear-headed reader who accepted Professor Birks's version of my views would be led to debit me with the absurdity of saying that certain things which are put together in consciousness (ideas) can not be put together in consciousness (conceived). To conceive is to frame in thought; and as every idea is framed in thought, it is nonsense to say of any idea that it can not be conceived—nonsense which I have nowhere uttered. My statement is that "ultimate scientific ideas, then, are all representative of realities that can not be comprehended"; and the like is alleged of ultimate religious ideas. The things which I say can not be comprehended or conceived, are not the ideas, but the realities beyond consciousness for which the ideas in consciousness stand. In Professor Birks's statement, however, inconceivableness of the realities is transformed into inconceivableness of the answering ideas! Further, at the end of this first paragraph which deals with me, I am represented as teaching that religion "is equivalent to nescience or ignorance alone." This statement is as far removed from the truth as the others. I have argued at considerable length, and in such various ways that I thought it impossible to misunderstand me, that though the Power universally manifest to us through phenomena, alike in the surrounding world and in ourselves—the Power "in which we live and move and have our being"—is, and must ever remain, inscrutable; yet that the existence of this inscru-