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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/555

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MR. MALLOCK ON OPTIMISM.

of the same period. The considerations which moved our ancestors to belief do not and can not move us; and, therefore, so far as the theology in question furnished an interpretation of the world or a guide to conduct, men who can not now accept it are compelled to look around for other canons, other sanctions, other modes of arriving at truth. The thinkers of this age have not deliberately made this situation for themselves. The change has come, upon the whole, very gradually; and human beings are every day being born into an atmosphere in which the ideas that were current in the earlier centuries simply can not live unless in some manner artificially protected. The difference between our time and the former age consists mainly in this, that educated men have now something like an adequate idea of what knowledge is, and of what proof is, and that they have got into the way of asking for proof before they yield belief. That this was not formerly the case—that men believed for the most fantastic and ridiculous reasons—could be abundantly proved if necessary; but surely it is not necessary. The task, then, which is assigned by dogmatic theology to this generation is to believe without those aids to belief which the more habitual supernaturalism of our more ignorant ancestors supplied. Some try to do it and succeed, making ends meet by ways and means best known to themselves. Some try and do not succeed; and some feel dispensed from trying at all. Monotheism it must be remembered was not a special revelation to mankind. There are good grounds for the belief that, in every case it has resulted from the consolidation of an antecedent polytheism; while polytheism itself has been a delusion forced upon men's minds by the countless activities in nature which they have been powerless to explain to themselves in any other way. The time has come at length when, as an explanation of nature, monotheism itself has lost its virtue; not because there are not many dark problems still to be solved, but because monotheism is recognized as rather the assumption of a solution than a solution. Men, even those who view things in this light, may still be theists, but intelligent men at least are not theists merely because they can not understand everything in nature. Their reasons are of a different order.

Instead, therefore, of there being anything in the condition of men's minds to-day or in the average philosophy of the time to provoke ridicule or hostile comment, there is much that calls for every allowance and consideration. The science, the history, the philosophy, the political and social organization of the past are discredited. Its theology is discredited, too, and men are engaged in a strenuous effort to lay new foundations and rear worthier superstructures in every department of thought. The workers, happily for themselves and for the world, are not all brigaded and dra-