Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/96

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
84
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

me sadly false if I am made to describe all agnostics as cowardly. A much slighter knowledge than I possess of Prof. Huxley's writings would have certainly prevented my applying to all agnosticism or agnostics such an epithet.

What I intended to express, and what I think I did express by this phrase was, that there is an agnosticism which is cowardly. And this I am convinced that there is, and that there is a great deal of it too, just now. There is an agnosticism which is simply the cowardly escaping from the pain and difficulty of contemplating and trying to solve the terrible problems of life by the help of the convenient phrase, "I don't know," which very often means "I don't care." "We don't know anything, don't you know, about these things. Prof. Huxley, don't you know, says that we do not, and I agree with him. Let us split a B. and S."

There is, I fear, a very large amount of this kind of agnosticism among the more youthful professors of that philosophy, and indeed among a large number of easy-going, comfortable men of the world, as they call themselves, who find agnosticism a pleasant shelter from the trouble of thought and the pain of effort and self-denial. And if I remember rightly it was of such agnostics I was speaking when I described them as "chatterers in our clubs and drawing-rooms," and as "freethinkers who had yet to learn to think."

There is therefore in my opinion a cowardly agnosticism just as there is also a cowardly Christianity. A Christian who spends his whole life in the selfish aim of saving his own soul, and never troubles himself with trying to help to save other men, either from destruction in the next world or from pain and suffering here, is a cowardly Christian. The eremites of the early days of Christianity, who fled away from their place in the world where God had put them, to spend solitary and, as they thought, safer lives in the wilderness, were typical examples of such cowardice. But in saying that there is such a thing as a cowardly Christianity, I do not thereby allege that there is no Christianity which is not cowardly. Similarly, when I speak of a cowardly agnosticism, I do not thereby allege that there is no agnosticism which is not cowardly, or which may not be as fearless as Prof. Huxley has always shown himself to be.

I hope that I have now satisfied the professor on the two points on which he has appealed to me. There is much in the other parts of his article which tempts me to reply. But I have a dislike to thrusting myself into other men's disputes, more especially when a combatant like Dr. Wace, so much more competent than myself, is in the field. I leave the professor in his hands, with the anticipation that he will succeed in showing him that a scientist dealing with questions of theology or biblical criticism may