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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/June 1889/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 35‎ | June 1889



WE print in this number of the "Monthly" a defense of "Christian science," and an explanation is due our readers for the appearance of such a paper in the pages of a scientific journal. Our April issue contained a carefully prepared article, which aimed to give a just statement of the claims and the results of "Christian science." The writer of that article had good authority for all his statements, and his only purpose was to tell the truth about the new theory. Notwithstanding his efforts in respect to fairness, he is charged, in the reply which we publish, with the most ignorant misrepresentation of the doctrine. We do not concede the truth of this charge, but we print Mr. Bailey's exposition for two reasons: first, to remove all possible ground for the charge of one-sidedness; and, second, to give our readers a fuller idea of what kind of stuff "Christian science" is. Of the half-dozen replies sent us we selected for publication the one that came from the most authoritative source—from the editor of "The Christian Science Journal"—although it was the only one of the whole number which did not explicitly concede the honesty of purpose of Mr. Fernald's article. The reader will observe in the reply frequent quotations from Mrs. Eddy's book, "Science and Health," which, being written by the inventor of the doctrine, is generally accepted as the authoritative expression of the tenets of the sect. Reference to Mr. Fernald's article will show that his statement of the claims of "Christian science" was based upon quotations from exactly the same source, and hence is no more open to the objection of being a "fanciful representation" than is the exposition of Mr. Bailey.

If a doubt remained in the mind of any reader as to whether this doctrine deserves the name of "science," it must be destroyed by Mr. Bailey's article. This writer defines man as "a state of consciousness," comprising, first, the impressions received through the five senses, and, second, "the impressions of Spirit." He asserts that sense-impressions can be kept out of consciousness by these other impressions, and hence that the former are unreal and not to be trusted. This is a good sample of the jumping at conclusions which passes among "Christian scientists" for legitimate induction. The pretension that the senses are "unreal," and that their "testimony can not be true," is too absurd for serious discussion. Nobody who has either any knowledge of science or any plain common sense can accept it—even the "Christian scientists" do not themselves believe it. We venture to say that Mrs. Eddy governs her actions by her sense-impressions a thousand times a day. She would not step off from the top of her house distrusting the testimony of her eyes that it was a long way to the ground; she would not eat food which her sense of taste told her was unfit to eat; nor remain on a railroad track when her hearing told her that a train was coming. It is absurdly illogical to trust the senses in such cases, and to refuse to trust them in the precisely parallel cases when they testify to a headache, or the inflammation of a joint, or the presence of a malignant tumor. Our senses are occasionally deceived by close resemblances, but with these exceptions the experience of every day of our lives embraces a countless host of instances in which we find it safe to trust our senses. All the observations which furnish the material of science are made by the senses, and any doctrine which denies the trustworthiness of the senses certainly is not science, whatever else it may be. "Christian science" makes itself ridiculous by strutting about in the borrowed plumage of a system whose data and method it affects to despise. The application of the name of science to this vague metaphysical doctrine is utterly unwarranted. In trade, art, politics, religion, and every other field in which wealth or fame can be achieved, spurious articles are being palmed off continually under the name of something else which enjoys a well earned repute. Especially has there been of late years an eagerness to tack the name of science on to all sorts of schemes and theories which have no particle of right to the designation, in order that they may share its glory and gain the aid of its prestige.

Mr. Bailey claims that "Christian science" has been vindicated by numerous successes in healing disease. Many persons with various complaints have been subjected to "Christian science" treatment and have ceased to complain. From this he infers not only that the treatment cured them, but also that all these grotesque notions about "the impressions of spirit" and the falsity of the senses must be true. As was shown by the contributor to our April number, it is not necessary to accept the "Christian science" theory in order to explain the process of mental healing. When there is any real effect, it is due to the stimulating influence exerted upon the patient's mind, and it makes no difference whether the stimulus is truth or error, if the patient only is stirred up by it. The alleged results of "Christian science," and the number of its believers, have been paralleled by many delusions which have had their day and then disappeared. Mesmer was a greater prophet in his time than Mrs. Eddy. Mesmerism had its host of cured patients, many of them very worthy persons, who gave enthusiastic testimonials to its efficiency and truth. Spiritualistic healers have paraded their alleged cures, and have argued for their doctrine as persistently as the "Christian scientists," but they have never gained any scientific standing. Every other absurd quackery that bids for the dollars and homage of the ignorant multitude has the same sort of indorsements, but time and science deal mercilessly with all alike. Witchcraft and diabolic agency have been wide-spread and eminently reputable doctrines, but they have ignominiously fallen beneath the attacks of scientific investigators. The reader will find in a note to Dr. White's article in our present issue some of the leading authorities which have combated these myth-making and wonder-mongering agencies. A comparison of one of these books with "Science and Health" will show the difference between a scientific and a visionary treatment of a subject. Mrs. Eddy's book, as shown in the extracts which Mr. Bailey gives, is an incomprehensible, because meaningless, mass of rant and rubbish, consisting of capricious inferences from scanty facts, of far-fetched analogies, of hysterical appeals to sentiment, and fanciful twisting of language. The fact that such a baseless speculation as "Christian science" can find believers shows that what is referred to in our other editorial as the fancy of the multitude for theories which save them trouble and minister to their love of the marvelous has not yet disappeared from the world. The fascination for holding odd notions seems to be a weakness of the human mind which is hard to eradicate. Such beliefs have been pretty well driven out of chemistry, physics, zoology, and other fields of science which can be searchingly investigated, and they remain only in psychology and medicine, dealing with the living human organism, which can not be freely experimented upon. Human credulity has been greatly lessened by the march of scientific enlightenment, and what remains has taken on a new form. In earlier times it delighted in the supernatural, now it revels in its own false ideas of the natural. Then it trusted the revelations of self-appointed prophets, now it pins its faith to the slipshod reasoning of sham investigators. Science has done such wonderful things of late that a certain class of people, including many of excellent judgment in other fields, has come to believe any marvels put forth under its name. Hence we have a modern class of mystery-mongers which will flourish until the spread of scientific culture has diffused the power of discriminating between science and base imitations of science.



Replying to our recent article on "The Devil-Theory," Dr. Lyman Abbott says that he objects to it because it is "unscientific." Will the reverend doctor allow us to say that we object to his article because it is evasive? It is evasive, in the first place, because, though he declares our position to be unscientific, he does not attempt to show in what way, but leaves his readers to discover it for themselves, as he expresses it, "between the lines." It is evasive, in the second place, because it does not attempt to defend the particular version of the devil-theory put forward by the doctor in his "Sunday afternoon" discourse and criticised by us; but, without a word of warning or apology to the reader, cleverly switches that version away and substitutes a completely édifièrent one. It will be remembered that the view which Dr. Abbott advocated, in the essay to which we referred, as being most in harmony both with reason and with Scripture was that the victims of devil possession were unhappy creatures who, by a long course of sin, had virtually lost control of themselves and were compelled to act as they might be moved by the malign spirit or spirits to whom they had "voluntarily" surrendered themselves. We pointed out that this was not in harmony with Scripture, which nowhere dropped the slightest hint that the possessed were other than the involuntary and helpless victims of their diabolical persecutors. One would have expected some notice by Dr. Abbott of this direct challenge of the "Scriptural" character of his teaching; but no, not one word have we on this point in his last deliverance in the "Christian Union." We are treated instead to a reproduction of something written by him twenty years ago, which, as he says, expresses perfectly the opinions he holds to-day. What, then, is the drift of the resuscitated article? The reader may judge by a few extracts:

"It may be confidently asserted that, if there are no cases of demonstrable demoniacal possession in modern times, there are mental phenomena which the hypothesis of such possession better solves than any other. What more reasonable explanation has science to afford of the case of that nurse who begged to be dismissed from her mistress's service because, in undressing the child whom she devoutly loved, an almost irresistible passion seized her to tear it to pieces; or that young girl who, otherwise exemplary, seemed to herself to be impelled by a spirit to acts of incendiarism; . . . or that distressed chemist, of a naturally amiable character, who went to an asylum that he might be prevented from indulging in a propensity to kill some one; or that respectable old lady who endeavored to strangle her own daughter?" etc., etc.

But, if these are types of devil possession, what becomes of the theory recently advanced by Dr. Abbott that a devil "never becomes the possessor of a human soul except by its own gradual and voluntary subjection to his hateful despotism"? As an honest roan, the doctor will have to admit that the facts marshaled in his article of twenty years ago were destined to support a view the direct opposite of that which tee criticised—the view, namely, that diabolical agency may be most reasonably assumed when, the general character being sound, some morbid or criminal propensity for which no natural cause can be assigned is manifested in one particular direction. He says he holds the same views now; and yet, the other day, he took up the entirely irreconcilable position that, before the fiend could do anything with a human being, there had to be a "gradual, voluntary" yielding to his infernal suggestions. Dr. Abbott says that he does not "maintain the doctrine of demoniacal possession upon theological grounds"; but surely if he maintained it at all as a sincere, independent conviction, he could hardly put forward two so directly contradictory views without being aware of the contradiction. Will not the doctor say which of the two theories it is he really holds? Is the presence of the devil to be argued from the general excellence of character of those who, in some one respect, are urged by an inexplicable impulse to crime? Or is it the other way—does the fiend simply in the end claim, as it were, his due from those who have "gradually and voluntarily" surrendered themselves into his hands?

Leaving our respected opponent to make his election between the above two views, both of which he singularly professes to maintain, let us, from our own point of view, briefly inquire what light the devil-theory throws either upon the phenomenon of morbid impulses or upon that of hardened, habitual iniquity. If it is a devil who besets an amiable chemist or a respectable old lady, when one or the other wishes to commit some senseless act of violence, the only remedy would seem to be exorcism, which, however, there is reason to fear, is a lost art—outside, at least, of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is perfectly known to Dr. Abbott, as to every one else, that these morbid influences do, more or less, yield to various curative measures in which exorcism has no part whatever. If evidence on this point is wanting it is supplied in the further article we print in our present number from the pen of Dr. Andrew D. White. To know the cause of an evil ought to be a great help to the discovery of a cure, provided the cause is a natural one; but of what assistance would it be to any one to know that his friend or neighbor was afflicted with a devil, if there were no devil-chaser accessible? On the other hand, what mischief might not be wrought by the assumption of a supernatural cause, if the cause were really natural, and therefore, possibly, removable by natural means? We doubt very much whether Dr. Abbott has sufficiently reflected on the mischief he may be doing in encouraging people to believe in devils, instead of urging them to a patient, untiring search after the natural causes and appropriate remedies of all ills, bodily and mental. In this great controversy a man of Dr. Abbott's intelligence ought to be on our side. We would respectfully call upon him to probe his conscience, and ask whether he is really being just to himself, or doing the world a service, by inciting his readers and hearers to attribute to Satanic agency every manifestation of evil that they can not clearly trace to a natural cause. He knows as well as we do the general inertness of the human mind, and how readily multitudes abandon the search for natural causes in favor of supernatural explanations that, in their eyes, have the double merit of saving them trouble and ministering to their love of the marvelous. Is this a disposition that a man of culture should set himself to aggravate and render more potent for the fabrication of mischievous illusions? That is what Dr. Abbott is now doing, however, and we scarcely understand how be can be blind to the fact.

The other hypothesis—that after a gradual and voluntary subjection of the nature to sin in some form or other the individual passes under the power of a fiend—errs in the direction of superfluity. If Dr. Abbott should elect to stand by this view of the matter, and, in spite of his very recent indorsement, to dismiss his theory of twenty years ago about amiable and respectable people becoming the victims of diabolical possession, we should then only have to ask him how he distinguishes between slavery to a devil and that slavery to evil propensities long indulged which the world has for ages recognized as a familiar and deplorable phenomenon. The devil in this case seems to be a fifth wheel to the coach, and even worse than a fifth wheel; for it is hard to see how the weight of the vehicle is going to be made to rest, in the slightest degree, on so unnecessary an adjunct.