Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/421

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WE print the concluding portion of a controversy between Frederic Harrison and Herbert Spencer on the nature of religion. In an article which appeared in the "Monthly" of last January, Mr. Spencer took a retrospective view of the past tendencies of religious ideas, and on the basis of this pointed out the further changes that may be expected in the future. His conclusion was a reaffirmation of views laid down many years ago, that there is a verity at the foundation of all religious systems, which will permanently remain when the erroneous beliefs accompanying this verity are utterly swept away by the progress of science. Mr. Spencer thus arrays himself, not with those who deny but with those who affirm the validity of religion, or that there is a reality at the root of all the diverse, discordant, and changing faiths professed by mankind. Religion is held to pertain to the sphere of the emotions, and to consist essentially in the feelings which arise in human nature toward the unsolved and forever insoluble mystery of the universe. Mr. Spencer says that, "unlike the ordinary consciousness, the religious consciousness is concerned with that which lies beyond the sphere of sense."It therefore relates to that which can not be grasped by the intellect, but which lies beyond the range of knowledge. That which is the object of religious feeling can not be known in any sense of our usual knowledge. Mr. Spencer reasons that it is not a negation, but a positive reality; and, preferring to use a term connotive of true humility and the limitations of the human mind, he calls this mysterious object of religious feeling "The Unknowable."

Mr. Harrison attacked this view of Spencer in an article which appeared in the August "Monthly" under the title of "The Ghost of Religion." He maintained that Mr. Spencer had perpetrated an utterly destructive criticism of everything hitherto known as religion; and argued that the attempt to find anything like a common element in religious systems is futile, while the doctrine of the Unknowable is but a vain attempt to deify an all-nothingness. His position, therefore, was, that there is no element of truth whatever in any of the systems that have passed under the name of religion. Yet Mr. Harrison will not give up the term religion. He proposes to retain it, redefine it, and make a new application of it. He says it is duty, virtue, morality, and finds its highest expression in a worship of humanity.

Mr. Spencer rejoined to this criticism in an article printed in the same number of the "Monthly," under the title of "Retrogressive Religion." lie replied to Mr. Harrison's criticisms of the doctrine of the Unknowable, and then subjected to a close examination Mr. Harrison's view of the Religion of Humanity. Mr. Harrison replies in an article entitled "Agnostic Metaphysics." It is very long, and divided into three parts. The first contains all that is essential to the main controversy; and, as we can not afford room for his less important expansions of the discussion, we print herewith the first portion, which is all that is properly covered by his title, and the part to which Mr. Spencer's answer is chiefly confined—which answer also appears in the present "Monthly."

We have felt bound to lay this discussion before our readers, because it is undoubtedly of profound importance. It goes to the root of the issue be-