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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/245

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"COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM."

is the meaning attributed to it not only by the world at large, but in reality by Prof. Huxley also quite as much as by anybody. I will not lay too much stress on the fact that, in the passage just quoted, having first fiercely declared agnosticism to be nothing but a method, in the very next sentence he himself speaks of it as a "faith," I will pass on to a passage that is far more unambiguous. It is taken from the same essay. It is as follows:

"'Agnosticism [says Mr. Harrison] is a stage in the evolution of religion, an entirely negative stage, the point reached by physicists, a purely mental conclusion, with no relation to things social at all.' I am [says Prof. Huxley] quite dazed by this declaration. Are there then any ' conclusions 'that are not' purely mental'? Is there no relation to things social in 'mental conclusions' which affect men's whole conception of life?. . . 'Agnosticism is a stage in the evolution of religion.' If. . . Mr. Harrison, like most people, means by 'religion' theology, then, in my judgment, agnosticism can be said to be a stage in its evolution only as death may be said to be the final stage in the evolution of life."

Let us consider what this means. It means precisely what every one else has all along been saying, that agnosticism is to all intents and purposes a doctrine, a creed, a faith, or a philosophy, the essence of which is the negation of theologic religion. Now the fundamental propositions of theologic religion are these: There is a personal God, who watches over the lives of men; and there is an immortal soul in man, distinct from the flux of matter. Agnosticism, then, expressed in the briefest terms, amounts to two articles—not of belief, but of disbelief. I do not believe in any God, personal, intelligent, or with a purpose; or, at least, with any purpose that has any concern with man. I do not believe in any immortal soul, or in any personality or consciousness surviving the dissolution of the body.

Here I anticipate from many quarters a rebuke which men of science are very fond of administering. I shall be told that agnostics never say "there is no God," and never say "there is no immortal soul." Prof. Huxley is often particularly vehement on this point. He would have us believe that a dogmatic atheist is, in his view, as foolish as a dogmatic theist; and that an agnostic, true to the etymology of his name, is not a man who denies God, but who has no opinion about him. But this—even if true in some dim and remote sense—is for practical purposes a mere piece of solemn quibbling, and is utterly belied by the very men who use it whenever they raise their voices to speak to the world at large. The agnostics, if they shrink from saying that there is no God, at least tell us that there is nothing to suggest that there is one, and much to suggest that there is not. Surely, if they never spoke more strongly than this, for practical purposes this is an absolute denial. Prof. Huxley, for instance, is utterly unable to demonstrate that an evening edition of the "Times" is not printed in