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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/244

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

mainly responsible for having forced the above views on the world, who have unfolded to us the verities of nature and human history, and have felt constrained by these to abandon their old religious convictions—these men and their followers have by common consent agreed, in this country, to call themselves by the name of agnostics. Now there has been much quarreling of late among these agnostics as to what agnosticism—the thing which unites them—is. It must be obvious, however, to every impartial observer, that the differences between them are little more than verbal, and arise from bad writing rather than from different reasoning. Substantially the meaning of one and all of them is the same. Let us take, for instance, the two who are most ostentatiously opposed to each other, and have lately been exhibiting themselves, in this and other reviews, like two terriers each at the other's throat. I need hardly say that I mean Prof. Huxley and Mr. Harrison.

Some writers. Prof. Huxley says, Mr. Harrison among them, have been speaking of agnosticism as if it was a creed or a faith or a philosophy. Prof. Huxley proclaims himself to be "dazed" and "bewildered" by the statements. Agnosticism, he says, is not any one of these things. It is simply—I will give his definition in his own words—

a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle. . . . Positively, the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.

Now anything worse expressed than this for the purpose of the discussion he is engaged in, or, indeed, for the purpose of conveying his own general meaning, it is hardly possible to imagine. Agnosticism, as generally understood, may, from one point of view, be no doubt rightly described as "a method." But is it a method with no results, or with results that are of no interest? If so, there would be hardly a human being idiot enough to waste a thought upon it. The interest resides in its results, and its results solely, and specially in those results that affect our ideas about religion. Accordingly, when the word agnosticism is now used in discussion, the meaning uppermost in the minds of those who use it is not a method, but the results of a method, in their religious bearings; and the method is of interest only in so far as it leads to these. Agnosticism means, therefore, precisely what Prof. Huxley says it does not mean. It means a creed, it means a faith, it means a religious or irreligious philosophy. And this