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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/247

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233
"COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM."

be derived altogether from the shifting pains or pleasures which go to make up our momentary span of life, or the life of our race, which in the illimitable history of the All is an incident just as momentary.

Now supposing the importance and interest which life has thus lost can not be replaced in any other way, will life really have suffered any practical change and degradation? To this question our agnostics with one consent say Yes. Prof. Huxley says that if theologic denial leads us to nothing but materialism, "the beauty of a life may be destroyed," and "its energies paralyzed";[1] and that no one, not historically blind, "is likely to underrate the importance of the Christian faith as a factor in human history, or to doubt that some substitute genuine enough and worthy enough to replace it will arise."[2] Mr. Spencer says the same thing with even greater clearness: while, as for Mr, Harrison, it is needless to quote from him; for half of what he has written is an amplification of these statements.

It is admitted, then, that life, in some very practical sense, will be ruined if science, having destroyed theologic religion, can not put, or allow to be put, some other religion in place of it. But we must not content ourselves with this general language. Life will be ruined, we say. Let us consider to what extent and how. There is a good deal in life which obviously will not be touched at all—that is to say, a portion of which is called the moral code. Theft, murder, some forms of lying and dishonesty, and some forms of sexual license, are inconsistent with the welfare of any society; and society, in self-defense, would still condemn and prohibit them, even supposing it had no more religion than a tribe of gibbering monkeys. But the moral code thus retained would consist of prohibitions only, and of such prohibitions only as could be enforced by external sanctions. Since, then, this much would survive the loss of religion, let us consider what would be lost along with it. Mr. Spencer, in general terms, has told us plainly enough. What would be lost, he says, is, in the first place, "our ideas of goodness, rectitude, or duty," or, to use a single word, "morality." This is no contradiction of what has just been said, for morality is not obedience, enforced or even instinctive, to laws which have an external sanction, but an active co-operation with the spirit of such laws, under pressure of a sanction that resides in our own wills. But not only would morality be lost, or this desire to work actively for the social good; there would be lost also every higher conception of what the social good or of what our own good is; and men would, as Mr. Spencer says, "become chiefly absorbed in

  1. "Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews," p. 127.
  2. "Agnosticism," "Nineteenth Century," February, 1889, p. 191, and "Popular Science Monthly," April, 1889, p. 773.