Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/259

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"COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM."

"surely indisputable." And truth thus understood it is "surely indisputable" that we should cultivate. The reason is obvious. Such truth has certain social consequences, certain things that we all desire come of it; but the highest truth which Mr. Spencer speaks of stands, according to him, on a wholly different basis, and we are to cultivate it, not because of its consequences, but in defiance of them. And what are its consequences, so far as we can see? Prof. Huxley's answer is this: "I have had, and have, the firmest conviction that. . . the verace via, the straight road, has led nowhere else but into the dark depths of a wild and tangled forest." Now if this be the case, what possible justification can there be for following this verace via? In what sense is the man who follows it playing "his right part in the world"? And when Mr. Spencer says, with regard to his conduct, "it is well," with whom is it well, or in what sense is it well? We can use such language with any warrant or with any meaning only on the supposition that the universe, or the Unknowable as manifested through the universe, is concerned with human happiness in some special way, in which it is not concerned with human misery, and that thus our knowledge of it must somehow make men happier, even though it leads them into a wild and tangled forest. It is certain that our devotion to truth will not benefit the universe; the only question is, will knowledge of the universe, beyond a certain point, benefit us? But the supposition just mentioned is merely theism in disguise. It imputes to the Unknowable design, purpose, and affection. In every way it is contrary to the first principles of agnosticism. Could we admit it, then devotion to truth might have all the meaning that Mr. Spencer claims for it: but if this supposition is denied, as all agnostics deny it, this devotion to truth, seemingly so noble and so unassailable, sinks to a superstition more abject, more meaningless, and more ridiculous than that of any African savage, groveling and mumbling before his fetich.

We have now passed under review the main positive arguments by which our agnostics, while dismissing the existence of God as a question of lunar politics, endeavor to exhibit the reality of religion, and of duty, as a thing that is "surely indisputable." We will now pass on to their negative arguments. While by positive arguments they endeavor to prove that duty and religion are realities, by their negative arguments they endeavor to prove that duty and religion are not impossibilities. We have seen how absolutely worthless to their cause are the former; but if the former are worthless, the latter are positively fatal.

What they are the reader has already seen. I have taken the statement of them from Prof. Huxley, but Mr. Spencer uses language almost precisely similar. These arguments start with two