Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/471

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proven, will vary according to the knowledge and the intellectual habits of the individual agnostic. I do not very much care to speak of anything as unknowable. What I am sure about is that there are many topics about which I know nothing, and which, so far as I can see, are out of reach of my faculties. But whether these things are knowable by any one else is exactly one of those matters which is beyond my knowledge, though I may have a tolerably strong opinion as to the probabilities of the case. Relatively to myself, I am quite sure that the region of uncertainty—the nebulous country in which words play the part of realities—is far more extensive than I could wish. Materialism and idealism; theism and atheism; the doctrine of the soul and its mortality or immortality—appear in the history of philosophy like the shades of Scandinavian heroes, eternally slaying one another and eternally coming to life again in a metaphysical "Nifelheim." It is getting on for twenty-five centuries, at least, since mankind began seriously to give their minds to these topics. Generation after generation, philosophy has been doomed to roll the stone up hill; and, just as all the world swore it was at the top, down it has rolled to the bottom again. All this is written in innumerable books; and he who will toil through them will discover that the stone is just where it was when the work began. Hume saw this; Kant saw it; since their time, more and more eyes have been cleansed of the films which prevented them from seeing it; until now the weight and number of those who refuse to be the prey of verbal mystification has begun to tell in practical life.

It was inevitable that a conflict should arise between agnosticism and theology; or rather I ought to say between agnosticism and ecclesiasticism. For theology, the science, is one thing; and ecclesiasticism, the championship of a foregone conclusion[1] as to the truth of a particular form of theology, is another. With scientific theology, agnosticism has no quarrel. On the contrary, the agnostic, knowing too well the influence of prejudice and idiosyncrasy, even on those who desire most earnestly to be impartial, can wish for nothing more urgently than that the scientific theologian should not only be at perfect liberty to thrash out the matter in his own fashion, but that he should, if he can, find flaws in the agnostic position, and, even if demonstration is not to be had, that he should put, in their full force, the grounds of the conclusions he thinks probable. The scientific theologian admits the agnostic principle, however widely his results may differ from those reached by the majority of agnostics.

But, as between agnosticism and ecclesiasticism, or, as our

  1. "Let us maintain, before we have proved. This seeming paradox is the secret of happiness." (Dr. Newman, "Tract 85," p. 85.) VOL.