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"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

Category Archives: New Atheism

Mencius, Jerry Coyne, and Chögyam Trungpa on Basic Goodness

Mencius said, ”Everyone has a heart that is sensitive to the sufferings of others. The great kings of the past had this sort of sensitive heart and thus adopted compassionate policies. Bringing order to the realm is as easy as moving an object in your palm when you have a sensitive heart and put into practice compassionate policies. Let me give an example of what I mean when I say everyone has a heart that is sensitive to the sufferings of others. Anyone today who suddenly saw a baby about to fall into a well would feel alarmed and concerned. It would not be because he wanted to improve his relations with the child’s parents, nor because he wanted a good reputation among his friends and neighbors, nor because he disliked hearing the child cry. From this it follows that anyone who lacks feelings of commiseration, shame, and courtesy or a sense of right and wrong is not a human being. From the feeling of commiseration benevolence grows; from the feeling of shame righteousness grows; from the feeling of courtesy ritual grows; from a sense of right and wrong wisdom grows. People have these four germs, just as they have four limbs For someone with these four potentials to claim incompetence is to cripple himself; to say his ruler is incapable of them is to cripple his ruler. Those who know how to develop the four potentials within themselves will take off like a fire or burst forth like a spring. Those who can fully develop them can protect the entire land while those unable to develop them cannot even take care of their parents.
[From: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 2d ed. (New York: Free Press, 1993), pp. 22-23. (online here:http://www.chinapage.com/mencius2n.html)]

Jerry Coyne said (more recently): “One cold Chicago day last February, I watched a Federal Express delivery man carry an armful of boxes to his truck. In the middle of the icy street, he slipped, scattering the boxes and exposing himself to traffic. Without thinking, I ran into the street, stopped cars, hoisted the man up and helped him recover his load. Pondering this afterward, I realized that my tiny act of altruism had been completely instinctive; there was no time for calculation.

“We see the instinctive nature of moral acts and judgments in many ways: in the automatic repugnance we feel when someone such as Bernie Madoff bilks the gullible and trusting, in our disapproval of the person who steals food from the office refrigerator, in our admiration for someone who risks his life to save a drowning child. And although some morality comes from reason and persuasion — we must learn, for example, to share our toys — much of it seems intuitive and inborn.”

Chögyam Trungpa said: “Buddhist psychology is based on the notion that human beings are fundamentally good. Their most basic qualities are positive ones: openness, intelligence and warmth. Of course this viewpoint has its philosophical and psychological expressions in concepts such as bodhichitta (awakened mind), and tathagatagarbha (birthplace of the enlightened ones). But this idea is ultimately rooted in experience-the experience of goodness and worthiness in oneself and others. This understanding is very fundamental and is the basic inspiration for Buddhist practice and Buddhist psychology.

“Coming from a tradition that stresses human goodness, it was something of a shock for me to encounter the Western tradition of original sin. It seems that this notion of original sin does not just pervade western religious ideas. It actually seems to run throughout Western thought as well, especially psychological thought. Among patients, theoreticians and therapists alike there seems to be great concern with the idea of some original mistake, which causes later suffering-a kind of punishment for that mistake. One finds that a sense of guilt or being wounded is quite pervasive. Whether or not such people actually believe in the idea of original sin, or in God for that matter, they seem to feel that they have done something wrong in the past and are now being punished for it.”

As is so often the case with Atheists these days, Jerry Coyne makes the glaringly ignorant ethnocentric mistake of believing that he is arguing against all religions, when in fact he is arguing against Christianity. Mencius, a Confucianist scholar who lived well over two millennia ago, and Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who died in 1987, both affirm that “basic goodness”, to use Trungpa’s term, is inherent in human nature. So we don’t “need God” to be good according to the deeply religious views of Mencius and Trungpa.

The Top Ten Reasons Stephen Batchelor Is Completely Full Of Shit

This post is Part Three in a series concerning Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist (here is a link to a list of Batchelor’s publications at his website). Here are links to the first two parts:
1. Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment
2. “I discover as I grow older …”

And now, here are the Top 10 Reasons Stephen Batchelor is Completely Full of Shit:

1. Herman Hesse said all of this already (almost a century ago), and said it much better.
For those poor souls who simply cannot tolerate any exposure to actual Buddhism, because anything remotely “religious” causes you to go into the spiritual equivalent of anaphylactic shock, that is still no excuse for lowering yourself to Stephen Batchelor’s homeopathically diluted version of Buddhism. Nearly a century ago, Herman Hesse blessed the world with his own beautifully written iconoclasizingly idiosyncratic redaction of the Buddhadharma: Siddhartha. (At least four new English translations have appeared since 1998, indicating that many people are already taking this advice.) Hey, just because you can’t handle the real thing that doesn’t mean you can’t still have some standards!

2. Also, Hesse was honest about the fact that what he was saying was not really what the Buddha taught.
A few years after first publication of Siddhartha, the author wrote that, far from promoting Buddhism, the novel actually represented his own “liberation from Buddhism” (Gessamelte Briefe, Vol. 2 p. 96 of the 1979 Suhrkamp Verlag edition. This is cited in Adrian Hsia’s essay “Siddhartha”, which in turn is to found in A Companion to the Works of Herman Hesse, edited by Ingo Cornils.). Hesse was perfectly well aware of, and perfectly happy with, the fact that the words he was putting into his protagonist’s mouth, and the ideas he was putting into his mind, were not the teachings of the Buddha but rather an eclectic mixture of Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Taoism, Jungianism and Buddhism, and that this mixture was of his own invention. Batchelor, on the other hand, delusionally insists that the world accept Stephen Batchelor’s personal opinions as the original, pure and true teachings of the Buddha.

3. There is nothing “agnostic” about Batchelor’s New Dispensation.
T.H. Huxley, who first coined and defined the term “agnosticism”, touched briefly on the subject of Buddhism in his 1893 essay on Evolution and Ethics. What Darwin’s Bulldog had to say on the subject was described by Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids (who would later become and remain for 20 years as the president of the Pali Text Society) in her own 1912 publication “Buddhism: A Study of the Buddhist Norm“, as the “most remarkable contribution of any lay student to the philosophy of Buddhism.” My point in bringing up Huxley is twofold. First of all, Huxley’s own brief non-expert description of basic Buddhist teachings is far superior to anything Stephen Batchelor has ever written. Secondly, in the course of his presentation of Buddhist ideas, the Agnosticator in Chief demonstrates that the same “metaphysical tour de force” (Huxley’s words) by which the Buddha obliterated the notion of “Self”  can be, and indeed must be (and indeed in Buddhist philosophy for the last 2.5 millennia has been consistently), also applied to the notion of “Matter”: “the ‘substance’ of matter is a metaphysical unknown quantity, of the existence of which there is no proof.” But what is a crude materialist like Batchelor to do without the Mammon of “physical reality” to grovel before? This is the real reason why Batchelor long ago abandoned any pretense of being an “agnostic”.

4. Why Settle For Goenka-Lite?
For several years, Stephen Batchelor lived as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and ostensibly was a student of Tibetan Buddhism. Then he changed teams and became a Zen Buddhist monk and lived in a Korean Buddhist monastery for several years while ostensibly studying Zen. In fact, however, during this whole time Batchelor was actually a practitioner, after a fashion, of “Goenka-style vipassana”. And in fact, what Batchelor “teaches” (and one can only refer to Batchelor as a “teacher” if one does so safely within the confines of ironic quotes) is nothing but his own personal interpretation of Goenka’s teaching. So, why accept some half-baked knock-off, when the real thing is readily available? An even more indelicate question is this: why has Stephen Batchelor never applied himself to a serious and systematic study of Goenka’s teachings, but has rather satisfied himself with only a minimal exposure to the teachings that he claims to hold in such high regard?

5. The Buddha actually did believe in and teach rebirth and karma.
“The slightest acquaintance with Buddhism, in virutally any of its forms,  shows that … Buddhism teaches that when people (or other beings) die, they are reborn according to their moral deserts …. In fact, Buddhism probably has the strongest idea of personal continuity found anywhere. Christians, for example,  believe in personal continuity through just one life that we live here on earth, and perhaps in a second life in a place or state of reward or punishment, a heaven 0r hell — although, since that is often considered to be ‘outside time’, it is not clear how the term ‘continuity’ can there apply. Buddhists, by contrast, believe in personal continuity over an infinite series of lives …. Though karma, ethical volition, is … only one of the elements of continuity in an individual’s life (and beyond), from the religious point of view it is the most important.” Richard Gombrich, What the Buddha Thought, pp. 11-13. Gombrich, it must be emphasized, is primarily concerned not only with the Pali Canon, but specifically with that part of the Pali Suttas that can most reliably be attributed directly to the historical Buddha.

6. Batchelor’s fundamentalism
Batchelor apparently could not be satisfied with presenting his own personal vision of what he thinks the Buddha should have taught (but did not) in an honest and straightforward way and for what it is. Nor was he interested in simply presenting his own personal interpretation of Buddha’s teachings as one valid way of looking at things. Rather, he insists, like any two-bit fundamentalist, that the vast majority of those who have called ourselves Buddhists for the last 2500 years have got it all wrong. And it just so happens that Stephen Batchelor, quite naturally, is just the guy to set us all straight. Like some Tudor-era Protestant “reformer”/psychopath, Batchelor sees evil forces lurking wherever  priests, or pomp, or idols, or rituals of any kind are to be found. But it is not enough for Batchelor to simply choose, for himself, to have nothing to do with these things of which he disapproves. Because Batchelor has convinced himself that he possesses The One Truth, and The One Truth must prevail. The priests must be exposed as frauds, the pomp splattered with mud, the idols smashed, and the rituals mocked and ridiculed and ultimately broken up by the mob.

7. What do you mean “we”, Kemosabe?
There is simply no getting around the ugly ethnocentric core at the heart of Batchelor’s New Dispensation. Batchelor’s mind works in a such a way that his own failures at Buddhist praxis must not merely be the fault of Buddhism, but the problem with Buddhism must be explained in racial and cultural terms. It is not that Batchelor was incapable of sincerely embracing and practicing Buddhism, you see. The inadequacy does not lie personally with Batchelor. No, that wouldn’t do at all. Rather it is a congenital malady afflicting all white people: “I’ve found that this denial of one’s roots, this denial of one’s cultural upbringing, is not actually possible to sustain. If one seeks to sustain it, one often ends up as a kind of mock Tibetan or pseudo-Japanese. Although I have tried to do that on occasion, dressing up in all of the appropriate regalia, more than that I feel it to be still seeking to find an identity outside that of my own culture. It’s, as Freud might say, impossible to repress these things. They simply come out in other ways.” [Deep Agnosticism, 1997]

8. There is nothing new, or interesting, or admirable, in the sad tale of an aging hippie manufacturing justifications for why he no longer feels quite so rebellious, adventurous and culturally flexible as he did in his youth.
I’m just sayin’.

9. Arrested Development.
I read Siddhartha when I was 17. It is important to read Hesse when one is still young. Along with Carlos Castaneda. If one did not manage to read these things when one was 17, then there is perhaps no harm in allowing such an indulgence at a later stage in life. But this kind of reading material must be understood for what it is: a starting point, a point of initial departure. Batchelor appeals to westerners who are still spiritual infants, a state ideally experienced in one’s late teens. Sadly, though, Batchelor’s audience is not primarily made up of teenagers, but rather of those who are, like Batchelor himself, trapped in a perpetually infantilizing and narcissizing state of arrested development. But once we have had our fill of pabulum (regardless at what age this finally happens) it is soon time to move on to solid food. Like actual Buddhism and actual Shamanism.

10. Batchelor, by his own admission, has never made a serious attempt to study and practice actual Buddhism.
According to his own account, Batchelor did not apply himself to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism during his years as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Rather, he chose to devote himself to the practice of his own personal conception of “Goenka-style vipassana”. And during his years as a Zen Buddhist monk, Batchelor cultivated an attitude of “ironic distance” from his teacher, and only put Kusan Sunim’s teachings into practice “in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs.” [for sourcing see: Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment] And at no time during his years of supposedly studying and practicing “Goenka-style vipassana” has Batchelor ever made a serious effort to systematically learn Goenka’s teaching as it is actually taught by Goenka.

"I discover as I grow older …", Or, Buddhism as a youthful indiscretion (Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment, Part Two)

.“Cool is not a way of resisting authority but rather a way of exercising it — of leading people who cannot otherwise be forced to follow.”
[Dave Hickey’s review of Cool Rules]

2. “… seeking to find an identity outside that of my own culture.”

This is part two of a series of posts critiquing Stephen Batchelor’s various attempts to remake Buddhism in an image more to his liking. The Gentle Reader is strongly encouraged to at least take a glance at the first post in this series before continuing below.

In his Treatise on Toleration (1763), Voltaire wrote that “When men do not have healthy notions of the Divinity, false ideas supplant them.” Voltaire never made a secret of the fact that at top of his list of “false ideas” concerning the divine was one set of ideas in particular: Christianity.

In the entry for “Religion” in his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire described a horrifying vision in which the bodies of all the victims of Christian violence (including millions of Native Americans) were piled up to form “abominable monuments to barbarism and fanaticism.” Voltaire also included Judaism and Islam in his condemnation of faiths in which “zeal and religion [are] wretchedly transformed into fanaticism.” But Voltaire was not opposed to religiosity altogether. He described himself as Deist, asserted his own belief in a “supreme Intelligence”, and was initiated into the mystical society of Freemasonry.

Some say that at the very end of his life, though, the author of the Philosophical Dictionary, and the Treatise on Toleration, relented and converted to Christianity at the last possible moment. It could be true. Who knows? However I prefer the version in which when the priest begged him to renounce the Devil, Voltaire responded, “This is no time to start making new enemies.” There is also the theory that his deathbed conversion really did occur, but that Voltaire meant it as a joke.

Regardless of what really happened during the final moments of Voltaire’s life, it is true that there are cases of people who are freethinking and rebellious in their youth, but who become more conservative and accommodating with age (often long before they reach their deathbeds). For example, in his 1997 essay “Deep Agnosticism”, Stephen Batchelor described how, in his teens and 20s, he had embraced Buddhism in a youthful “act of defiance”, but by the time he had reached the ripe old age of fourty-something, had already done some serious rethinking:

I discover as I grow older a reconnection with the roots of my own culture. Maybe many of us of my generation were drawn to Buddhism as a kind of act of defiance, a kind of rebelliousness against what we viscerally disliked—often for rather naive, adolescent, and idealistic reasons—in our own culture and we saw Buddhism, or at least I saw Buddhism, as a kind of vindication of that dissent.

But as the years have gone by I’ve found that this denial of one’s roots, this denial of one’s cultural upbringing, is not actually possible to sustain. If one seeks to sustain it, one often ends up as a kind of mock Tibetan or pseudo-Japanese. Although I have tried to do that on occasion, dressing up in all of the appropriate regalia, more than that I feel it to be still seeking to find an identity outside that of my own culture.
[From “Deep Agnosticism: A Secular Vision of Dharma Practice“, but Stephen Batchelor]

There is nothing much to be found in the way of original thought in Batchelor’s potted story of headstrong youthful rebellion followed, with advancing age, by contrite reconciliation with “one’s own” culture. In fact, it is right out of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. There isn’t even anything original in the specific story line of a young Western intellectual who diffidently samples the spiritual offerings of the East only to be drawn safely back to the warm, familiar embrace of a culture that is his not by choice, but by mere happenstance of birth.

And there is, if possible, even less originality in Batchelor’s pseudo-Nietzschean rationalizing in which he posits a crude racial/cultural determinism, according to which it is an impossibility for a person of European blood to “sustain” the “denial of one’s roots,” that Batchelor believes must be involved for a westerner to “believe” in Buddhism. Nor is there anything fresh and new about insisting that those foolish enough to make the attempt to think outside “one’s own” culture, can only accomplish a mawkish theatrical display that goes no further than “dressing up in all the appropriate regalia,” because no force can change the immutable, essential characteristics of the silly white actor underneath the ridiculous Asiatic costume.

Western intellectuals, writers, artists — indeed anyone of sufficiently adventurous spirit — had already been exploring “the East” for centuries by the time the 60’s came along. For example a complete English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was first published in 1785, over two centuries before the publication of Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs (first pubished in 1998, and in which he attempted to more fully develop his agnostical, later secular, and then finally atheistical, New Buddhist Dipsensenation, first announced to the world in “Deep Agnosticism”).

Charles Wilkins‘ (1749-1836) English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was just part of a much larger project, never completed, to translate the entire Mahabharata. During his 16 years in India, Wilkins not only came out with his historical translation of the Gita (which was very popular, and was in turn translated into French and German), he also created the first Devanagari typeface (he was a typesetter by profession), served as official translator of Persian and Bengali for the East India Company, and helped establish the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

In 1879, Edwin Arnold published his groundbreaking The Light of Asia, a book length epic poem recounting the life of the Buddha. Arnold’s book was a great literary and commercial success, and is still in print today. But Arnold did not at all limit himself to writing about Buddhism, and he helped to found, along with Anagarika Dharmapala, the Maha Bodhi Society, perhaps most well known for its work to protect and preserve Buddhist historical sites in India.

It is important to emphasize that the Western encounter with Eastern religions has been active and ongoing since well before Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, ruled over half of Europe. All during this now centuries long process of Westerners exploring the East, a wide variety of positions and dispositions have been staked out. Some have simply chosen to, in essence, “go native”, as one might say of Charles Henry Allan Bennett, who not only converted to Buddhism but ordained as a Buddhist monk (sometime around 1901) and lived out the remainder of his life as Ananda Metteyya (he died in 1923). Others have attempted to fully embrace Eastern teachings while also experimenting with new and different ways of presenting and applying these teachings in the West (for example Dennis Philip Edward Lingwood, aka Sangharakshita, and his Friends of the Western Buddhist Order). Still others have chosen to xenophobically exaggerate what they have seen as the indelible “foreignness” of Buddhism, Hinduism, and everything “Eastern”, and these have, therefore, insisted on either the necessity of rejecting “Asian” ideas altogether, or possibly (as with Batchelor) of slapping together heavily redacted New Dispensations meticulously purged of anything that might be rejected by the immune system of the European psyche.




>Harry Potter: A Childhood Immunization Against Philistinism?

“Dont let the Muggles get you down.”

Among the many life lessons of the Harry Potter books are these:

  1. Those who live outside the magical world are to be pitied.
  2. Those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the reality of magic are motivated by fear.
  3. The ability to work with magic is a gift to be cherished and cultivated, even though it might inspire fear and denial from non-magical people.

Obviously, Potter-mania flies in the face of the world-view of those who wish to stigmatize “magical thinking”. And it’s a good thing, too, since so many people today (it seems like an ever increasing number) boorishly insist on associating anything that remotely resembles belief in magic with mental illness or congenital stupidity.

Children who are raised on JK Rowling’s writings, however, are forewarned and forearmed. The world is, indeed, full of “Muggles”, who are either completely unaware that magic exists at all, or recoil in horror from it.

Rowling also, especially through the deeply humane and magnificently human example of the Weasley family, and Arthur Weasley in particular (as well as through the negative example of the ugly anti-Muggle bigotry of the followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), teaches us to be kind to and tolerant of Muggles, at least up to a point. All (indeed, most) Muggles are not like the Dursleys, and many Witches and Wizards, even non-Death-Eaters like Dolores Umbridge and a number of other apparatchiks at the Ministry of Magic, are nevertheless thoroughly contemptible human beings.

Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment

“Ironic detachment is a stratagem

for concealing one’s feelings.”

[Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude


“… but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs.”

As a young man, Stephen Batchelor traveled half-way across the world in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. Even once he accomplished the long and difficult journey from the British Isles to Dharamsala, India, Batchelor was at first turned away when he asked to be accepted for monastic ordination. Only after a full year of further reflection did Batchelor ask again, and this time he was approved to be ordained as a monk in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (on June 6, 1974).

Just three months after his ordination, however, Batchelor attended a retreat led by S.N. Goenka, at which Goenka taught his own version of vipassana, a form of meditation practice associated with Theravada Buddhism. Suddenly Batchelor decided that what he really wanted to study and practice was not Tibetan Buddhism at all, but rather “Goenka-style vipassana”.

There was a falling out of some sort, though, so Batchelor did not actually become a student of Goenka’s. Nevertheless, Batchelor claims to have “studied” with Goenka, when in fact that one retreat, followed by what Batchelor has described as “a certain conflict with Goenka“, was the sum total of his training in “Goenka-style vipassana,”

Instead, Batchelor continued to be a Gelugpa monk, and pretended to be studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism, even though he now believed that “Goenka-style vipassana” was “certainly … more immediately effective” than anything found in Tibetan Buddhism. [see interview linked to above and below]

Many years later, Batchelor was asked: “Was there any conflict or difficulty around mixing the practices?”

Batchelor replied that there was some conflict, but this was only due to the fact that, in his words, “this practice [“Goenka-style vipassana”] was not really understood by the Tibetans.” This is a very revealing statement. After three full months of formal training in Tibetan Buddhism Batchelor now felt qualified to condescendingly dismiss the “understanding” of the Lamas who had, reluctantly, agreed to take him in as a student.

Batchelor did consider possibly switching to another school of Tibetan Buddhism, but when he learned that they would also expect him to actually study and practice Tibetan Buddhism (what a concept!), he “quickly lost interest.” [Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, p. 61]

By 1979 (Tibetan Buddhists are very patient people) Batchelor’s welcome appears to have been wearing rather thin. From a friend, he learned of a Zen monastery in Korea that accepted western students, and obtained (from the same friend) an English translation of Dharma talks by the head of the monastery, which Batchelor says he found to be “largely incomprehensible.” With no more information than this, Batchelor wrote to the monastery, and as soon as he learned that they would accept him he took his “formal leave” of his teacher and in his own words “severed my links with the world of Tibetan Buddhism in which I had spent most of my adult life.” [Confessions, pp. 61-62] My guess is that they helped him pack and gave him a ride to the airport.

Of his new teacher in Korea, Batchelor says that from the beginning, “I maintained an ironic but respectful distance … I put Kusan Sunim’s instructions into practice, but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs.” [p. 66]

Batchelor was unpleasantly surprised to learn that, like his former teacher (Geshe Rabten), Kusan Sunim also naively believed in the “validity” of what he taught. To this day, Batchelor is scratching his head over the puzzling fact that both of these stupid backwards Asiatic simpletons were “committed to upholding and transmitting what they had been taught by their teachers and lineage.” [p. 66] Oh, the inscrutable mysteries of le pensee sauvage!

In December of 1983 Kusan Sunim died. Batchelor spent the next year helping to prepare an English language edition of Sunim’s teachings, and then, one year after the Master’s death, he left Korea and returned to England and to lay life.

Back in England, Batchelor eventually came to be viewed (for some reason) as a Buddhist teacher and even something of a Buddhist philosopher. Certainly he viewed himself as not only both of these, but as nothing less than the prophet of a New Buddhist Dispensation.

However, Batchelor did not at first reveal the extent of his inflated self-image. Once again, ironic detachment served him well as he cautiously struck a pose as just another ex-hippie pseudo-intellectual searching for a form of spiritual practice that would blend comfortably with the blandly middle-class mindset and lifestyle that he had safely returned to after running out of wild Buddhist oats to sew abroad.



Also see parts Two and Three of Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment:

[The pic of the two girls at the top of the post is a promo for the film “Eve and the Firehorse” by Julia Kwan — the pic was found here. Little Buddha at the computer pic was found at Elephantjournal. Ironman Zen pic is by Freakscity.]

>Sam Harris: Islam Is Different. (Duh.)

>I hate it when Sam Harris is right. But this time he is, and I don’t mind (too much) giving the Devil his due:

The New York Times has declared that the proposed mosque will be nothing less than “a monument to tolerance.” It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed. Nor can we ignore the fact that many who oppose the construction of this mosque embody all that is terrifyingly askew in conservative America—“birthers,” those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories). These people are wrong about almost everything under the sun. The problem, however, is that they are not quite wrong about Islam ….

There is no such thing as Islamophobia. Bigotry and racism exist, of course—and they are evils that all well-intentioned people must oppose. And prejudice against Muslims or Arabs, purely because of the accident of their birth, is despicable. But like all religions, Islam is a system of ideas and practices. And it is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe.

The claim that the events of September 11, 2001, had “nothing to do with Islam” is an abject and destabilizing lie. This murder of 3,000 innocents was viewed as a victory for the One True Faith by millions of Muslims throughout the world (even, idiotically, by those who think it was perpetrated by the Mossad). And the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice. This may not be reason enough for the supporters of this mosque to reconsider their project. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps there is some form of Islam that could issue from this site that would be better, all things considered, than simply not building another mosque in the first place. But this leads me to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.
[What Obama Got Wrong About the Mosque by Sam Harris]

Two other interesting, related, items over at The Daily Beast:

Ground Zero Mosque Hurts Islam by Douglas Murray
Murray is the Director of the UK based Center for Social Cohesion. He was born and raised an Anglican, but his studies of Islam led him to become an atheist.

A Muslim Questions the Mosque by Asra Q. Nomani
Nomani is an Indian born American Muslim journalist and researcher. She is the author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.

On the broader issue of the “differentness” of Islam, I would humbly recommend that the interested reader check out the following posts from this blog:
The Price of Monotheism in a nutshell
Are there two kinds of religion?
What is “Counterreligion”?
The Essence of Religion

>New Atheists as Pet Rocks

>A tip of the hat to Tom Cheetham, in whose The Legacy of Henry Corbin blog I learned of David B. Hart’s review of the latest publishing effort churned out in the name of New Atheism.

Hart’s review is titled Believe It Or Not, and in it he looks at 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Hart introduces his review with a very nice summation of his opinion of New Atheism:

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.

To be honest, I think Hart seriously misunderestimates the lasting cultural impact and importance of disco, but other than that, this is pitch perfect.

Now, Hart and I obviously come at this issue from rather different perspectives. He is an Orthodox Christian who is a regular contributor to the conservative Christian journal, First Things, where his review is published. First Things, for those not familiar with it, was founded by Catholic theologian Richard Neuhaus, who had this to say in a speech he gave to the National Right To Life Committee in Arlington VA in 2008:

“We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person. Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time . . . “

I, on the other hand, am a left-leaning Pagan who is proud of having faced down the likes of Richard Neuhaus from the other side of the property line at many an abortion clinic. I don’t want to dwell on abortion or my views of Christianity (or monotheism generally — let along right-wing Catholic right-to-lifers). I only wish to emphasize that any agreement I might have with David Bentley Hart is a considered one, and not some reflexive “amen, brother!”

With that out of the way, let me return to praising Hart and his assessment of New Atheism. Or, better yet, let me quote Hart at length as he gets to the heart of the matter:

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

This is spot on. For the old school Atheists of days gone by, attacking Christianity was a labor of love. They lingered over passages from scripture, quoted Papal Bulls and other church documents from memory, and knew the breadth and depth of western history. For them it was not simply the case that “even the Devil can quote scripture“, but that the Devil must know his Bible backwards and forwards, as well as his theology, his Apologetics, and, of course, his Church historians.

By far the most damning thing that Hart has in store is his extended comparison of the “sheer banality” of the New Atheists with the “force” and “intellectual courage” of Friedrich Nietzsche:

The only really effective antidote to the dreariness of reading the New Atheists, it seems to me, is rereading Nietzsche. How much more immediate and troubling the force of his protest against Christianity seems when compared to theirs, even more than a century after his death. Perhaps his intellectual courage—his willingness to confront the implications of his renunciation of the Christian story of truth and the transcendent good without evasions or retreats—is rather a lot to ask of any other thinker, but it does rather make the atheist chic of today look fairly craven by comparison.

Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

Of course Hart cannot help but try to enlist Nietzsche as a witness to the “immensity” of the “consequences of the rise of Christianity.” One gets the impression that Hart does not have the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and Colonialism in mind. But those are subjects I have covered elsewhere.

>"Religion Is Gay": The New Atheism As A Form of Bigotry

>There are a number of striking parallels between the positions taken, the attitudes adopted, and the rhetoric used by the New Atheists and positions, attitudes and rhetoric of the anti-gay-rights crowd, and, in particular, of homophobic right-wing Christians. Below, seven of these parallels are briefly described. (Some, or all, of these points might be taken up in more detail in future posts under the general heading “Religion Is Gay”.)

The point is not that New Atheists are necessarily homophobic. The point, rather, is that New Atheism is a form of bigotry, and, therefore, it necessarily resembles other forms of bigotry.

New Atheism is a form of bigotry because it is based on irrational fear and hostility directed at people based solely on their religious beliefs. And like other forms of bigotry, New Atheism doesn’t stop at disparaging religious people, but actively seeks to harass and discriminate against them because of their religiosity, and even has the stated goal of eventually ridding the world of religiously minded people altogether.

1. Special Rights/Religious Privilege

The right-wing website Conservapedia in their entry on “The Homosexual Agenda” cites Joseph P. Gudel to the effect that “the homosexual movement”:

has been militantly demanding not just the homosexuals’ right to do whatever they wish to do behind closed doors, but, more importantly, that society fully accept their lifestyle as both healthy and normal, even demanding special rights and legislation as an “oppressed minority.”

New Atheism: Austin Cline, a Fullbright scholar and prominent Atheist blogger wrote a piece for About.com titled “Equal Rights vs. Special Rights“:

If a person has a sincere religious belief, they can apply for — and are usually granted — exemptions from generally applicable and neutral laws. Employers, too, are required to accommodate people’s religious beliefs even if this means exempting them from generally applicable, neutral rules in the workplace. Religious believers enjoy a broad array of special rights and privileges unavailable to others who may want exemptions for non-religious reasons.

2. “They don’t keep it to themselves”

Homophobia: Scientific studies have shown that even “gay friendly” heterosexuals are often “disgusted” by public displays of same-sex affection. It is hardly news that homophobes often protest that they don’t have anything against gay people so long as they keep it to themselves and don’t flaunt it. A more specific example: Speaking on the right-wing Christian radio program “Washington Watch Weekly”, U.S. Rep. Steve King (R. IA) stated that “If you don’t project it, if you don’t advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?”

New Atheism:
“We aren’t interested in what public officials do in their free time. They can have whatever legal hobby they want, they can favor whatever private rituals they want, they can associate with any non-dangerous group on their weekends that they want, whether it’s going to church or gathering to watch football. So what’s different about Collins? He doesn’t keep it to himself. He is openly and avidly evangelical.” P.Z. Myers in his aptly titled blog post “Is it really that hard to understand?”

3. Religion as mental illness

Homophobia: Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and a licensed clinical psychologist, has stated that he “and many others in the mental health field see homosexuality as a developmental condition stemming from a combination of factors — including, but not limited to, dysfunctional family relationships,” and that this “developmental condition . . . can be overcome.”

New Atheism: Sam Harris: “It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.” Also: “It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.”

4. Religion as a kind of contagion

Homophobia: A team of University of Arkansas psychologists studied the underlying emotions and attitudes behind homophobia. They used the Padua Inventory (psychological test for assessing “contamination obsessions”) and other psychological tests, including the Index of Attitudes toward Homosexuals. They concluded that homophobia is based on “feelings of disgust” and “a perception of contagion”.

New Atheism: Jerry Coyne wrote in a blog post titled “Francis Collins pollutes science with religion“: “I am more certain than ever that Collins really does pollute his science with his faith. By speaking with the authority of a scientist, by discussing science at length, and above all by describing in the same talk the evidence for evolution and the ‘evidence’ for God, acting as if they are of similar epistemic significance, he is confusing his audiences about the nature of evidence and the nature of science . . . It’s a disquieting performance, even more distressing because Collins is an affable and genial speaker, conveying his snake oil is with a dose of sugar . . . He is polluting science with faith — and hurting public understanding of science.” Also this from Sam Harris: “There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.”

5. Religion as a major cause of societal ills

Homophobia: It is well known that some Christians don’t even stop at blaming social problems on the sin of homosexuality. Natural disasters and even terrorism can be caused by God’s Wrath Over Homosexuality, according to such varied experts in theodicy as John Hagee, and Jerry Falwell.

New Atheism: Sam Harris sounds a lot like Rev. Hagee in his unhinged essay “The Problem With Religious Moderates”: “Religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance — born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God — is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” Similarly, Richard Dawkins wrote in his The God Delusion that “even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.” [p. 303]

6. “Dread of being in close quarters”

Homophobia: Psychologist George Weinberg is credited with first coining the term “homophobia”. Part of Weinberg’s definition of homophobia is “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals.” (See his Society and the Healthy Homosexual.) In his now classic study, Homosexuality Reexamined, D.J. West wrote that “when placed in a situation that threatens to excite their own unwanted homosexual thoughts, they overreact with panic or anger.”

New Atheism: Of all the New Atheists the worst, by far, are the self-appointed Science Nazis: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, PZ Meyers, Jerry Coyne and their ilk. One of their primary goals is to turn the world of scientific research into a “religion free zone”, so that atheist scientists will have a safe refuge where they needn’t dread being in close quarters with icky religious people and their spiritual cooties. At the very least they want to impose a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning religion among scientists. This aspect of New Atheism was especially noticeable in their frenzied response to Francis Collins’ appointment as NIH Director.

7. Creepy obsessions

Homophobia: Rick Warren: “But the issue to me is, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”

New Atheism: Richard Dawkins: “Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7/, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.”

>Of Prepositions, Truth, and Shirley Chaplin’s Crucifix

>According to the UK Timesonline (on April 7th) Shirley Chaplin was offfered “a series of compromises” when she was told she could no longer wear her crucifix necklace while at work (she is a nurse at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital). “Managers suggested that she pin it to her uniform or wear it on her identity lanyard.”

The Timesonline would have us believe that Ms. Chaplin is some kind of intractable troublemaker who refused to listen to reason and accept the reasonable “compromises” that were generously offered to her, and that she is just making an issue out of something that could have been easily resolved if she were being rational.

However, on March 30th the Daily Mail had reported that it was the other way around: Ms. Chaplin offered to pin the crucifix to her uniform, and her superiors refused this suggestion! On April 4th the Daily Mail repeated and elaborated on this version of the story. In both cases the Daily Mail provided direct quotes from Chaplin.

An anonymous blog entry at the British Humanist Society website, from April 7th, states that “Ms Chaplin refused the choice of wearing the crucifix in another way, such as pinning it to her uniform.”

So what is the truth of the matter?

Well, according to The Guardian (on April 6th), BBC.com (on April 7th), and also the April 12th HR Magazine (a trade journal for “Human Relations” professionals) Chaplin’s bosses actually suggested that she pin the crucifix inside her uniform!

Bottom line: when trying to sort out the truth in conflicting media reports, look for (1) consistency in how a story is reported over several days, (2) specificity, direct quotes, named sources, (3) verification from independent media sources.

Also, think about what your own default positions are. For example: do you by default tend to believe the boss or the worker being disciplined? Also: do you by default defend freedom of religion even when it’s a religion you don’t like?

"that all our knowledge is a knowledge of states of consciousness."

On Descartes’ “Discourse Touching the Method of Using One’s Reason Rightly and of Seeking Scientific Truth” (1870)
T.H. Huxley, Collected Essays I

It has been well said that “all the thoughts of men, from the beginning of the world until now, are linked together into one great chain;” but the conception of the intellectual filiation of mankind which is expressed in these words may, perhaps, be more fitting metaphor. The thoughts of men seem rather to be comparable to the leaves, flowers, and fruit upon the innumerable branches of a few great stems, fed by commingled and hidden roots. These stems bear the names of the half-a-dozen men, endowed with intellects of heroic force and clearness, to whom we are led, at whatever point of the world of thought the attempt to trace its history commences, just as certainly as the following up the small twigs of a tree to the branchlets which bear them, and tracing the branchlets to their supporting branches, brings us, sooner or later, to the bole.

It seems to me that the thinker who, more than any other, stands in the relation of such a stem towards the philosophy and the science of the modern world is Réné Descartes. I mean, that if you lay hold of any characteristic product of modern ways of thinking, either in the region of philosophy, or in that of science, you find the spirit of that thought, if not its form, to have been present in the mind of the great Frenchman.

There are some men who are counted great because they represent the actuality of their own age, and mirror it as it is. Such an one was Voltaire, of whom it was epigrammatically said, “he expressed everybody’s thoughts better than anybody.” But there are other men who attain greatness because they embody the potentiality of their own day, and magically reflect the future. They express the thoughts which will be everybody’s two or three centuries after them. Such an one was Descartes.

Born in 1596, nearly three hundred years ago, of a noble family in Touraine, Réné Descartes grew up into a sickly and diminutive child, whose keen wit soon gained him that title of “the Philosopher,” which, in the mouths of his noble kinsmen, was more than half a reproach. The best schoolmasters of the day, the Jesuits, educated him as well as a French boy of the seventeenth century could be educated. And they must have done their work honestly and well, for, before his schoolboy days were over, he had discovered that the most of what he had learned, except in mathematics, was devoid of solid and real value.

“Therefore,” says he, in that ‘Discourse’ which I have taken for my text, “as soon as I was old enough to be set free from the government of my teachers, I entirely forsook the study of letters; and determining to seek no other knowledge than that which I could discover within myself, or in the great book of the world, I spent the remainder of my youth in travelling; in seeing courts and armies; in the society of people of different humours and conditions; in gathering varied experience; in testing myself by the chances of fortune; and in always trying to profit by my reflections on what happened. . . . And I always had an intense desire to learn how to distinguish truth from falsehood, in order to be clear about my actions, and to walk surefootedly in this life.”

But “learn what is true, in order to do what is right,” is the summing up of the whole duty of man, for all who are unable to satisfy their mental hunger with the east wind of authority; and to those of us moderns who are in this position, it is one of Descartes’ great claims to our reverence as a spiritual ancestor, that, at three-and-twenty, he saw clearly that this was his duty, and acted up to his conviction. At two-and-thirty, in fact, finding all other occupations incompatible with the search after the knowledge which leads to action, and being possessed of a modest competence, he withdrew into Holland; where he spent nine years in learning and thinking, in such retirement that only one or two trusted friends knew of his whereabouts.

In 1637 the first-fruits of these long meditations were given to the world in the famous “Discourse touching the Method of using Reason rightly and of seeking Scientific Truth,” which, at once an autobiography and a philosophy, clothes the deepest thought in language of exquisite harmony, simplicity, and clearness.

The central propositions of the whole “Discourse” are these. There is a path that leads to truth so surely, that any one who will follow it must needs reach the goal, whether his capacity be great or small. And there is one guiding rule by which a man may always find this path, and keep himself from straying when he has found it. This golden rule is–give unqualified assent to no propositions but those the truth of which is so clear and distinct that they cannot be doubted.

The enunciation of this great first commandment of science consecrated Doubt. It removed Doubt from the seat of penance among the grievous sins to which it had long been condemned, and enthroned it in that high place among the primary duties, which is assigned to it by the scientific conscience of these latter days. Descartes was the first among the moderns to obey this commandment deliberately; and, as a matter of religious duty, to strip off all his beliefs and reduce himself to a state of intellectual nakedness, until such time as he could satisfy himself which were fit to be worn. He thought a bare skin healthier than the most respectable and well-cut clothing of what might, possibly, be mere shoddy.

When I say that Descartes consecrated doubt, you must remember that it was that sort of doubt which Goethe has called “the active scepticism, whose whole aim is to conquer itself; “ and not that other sort which is born of flippancy and ignorance, and whose aim is only to perpetuate itself, as an excuse for idleness and indifference. But it is impossible to define what is meant by scientific doubt better than in Descartes’ own words. After describing the gradual progress of his negative criticism, he tells us:–

“For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics, who doubt only for doubting’s sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at a certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath.”

And further, since no man of common sense when he pulls down his house for the purpose of rebuilding it, fails to provide himself with some shelter while the work is in progress; so, before demolishing the spacious, if not commodious, mansion of his old beliefs, Descartes thought it wise to equip himself with what he calls “une morale par provision,” by which he resolved to govern his practical life until such time as he should be better instructed. The laws of this “provisional self-government” are embodied in four maxims, of which one binds our philosopher to submit himself to the laws and religion in which he was brought up; another, to act, on all those occasions which call for action, promptly and according to the best of his judgment, and to abide, without repining, by the result: a third rule is to seek happiness in limiting his desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them; while the last is to make the search after truth the business of his life.

Thus prepared to go on living while he doubted, Descartes proceeded to face his doubts like a man. One thing was clear to him, he would not lie to himself–would, under no penalties, say, “I am sure” of that of which he was not sure; but would go on digging and delving until he came to the solid adamant or, at worst, made sure there was no adamant. As the record of his progress tells us, he was obliged to confess that life is full of delusions; that authority may err; that testimony may be false or mistaken; that reason lands us in endless fallacies; that memory is often as little trustworthy as hope; that the evidence of the very senses may be misunderstood; that dreams are real as long as they last, and that what we call reality may be a long and restless dream. Nay, it is conceivable that some powerful and malicious being may find his pleasure in deluding us, and in making us believe the thing which is not, every moment of our lives. What, then, is certain? What even, if such a being exists, is beyond the reach of his powers of delusion? Why, the fact that the thought, the present consciousness, exists. Our thoughts may be delusive, but they cannot be fictitious. As thoughts, they are real and existent, and the cleverest deceiver cannot make them otherwise.

Thus, thought is existence. More than that, so far as we are concerned, existence is thought, all our conceptions of existence being some kind or other of thought. Do not for a moment suppose that these are mere paradoxes or subtleties. A little reflection upon the commonest facts proves them to be irrefragable truths. For example, I take up a marble, and I find it to be a red, round, hard, single body. We call the redness, the roundness, the hardness, and the singleness, “qualities” of the marble; and it sounds, at first, the height of absurdity to say that all these qualities are modes of our own consciousness, which cannot even be conceived to exist in the marble. But consider the redness, to begin with. How does the sensation of redness arise? The waves of a certain very attenuated matter, the particles of which are vibrating with vast rapidity, but with very different velocities, strike upon the marble, and those which vibrate with one particular velocity are thrown off from its surface in all directions. The optical apparatus of the eye gathers some of these together, and gives them such a course that they impinge upon the surface of the retina, which is a singularly delicate apparatus connected with the termination of the fibres of the optic nerve. The impulses of the attenuated matter, or ether, affect this apparatus and the fibres of the optic nerve in a certain way; and the change in the fibres of the optic nerve produces yet other changes in the brain; and these, in some fashion unknown to us, give rise to the feeling, or consciousness of redness. If the marble could remain unchanged, and either the rate of vibration of the ether, or the nature of the retina, could be altered, the marble would seem not red, but some other colour. There are many people who are what are called colour-blind, being unable to distinguish one colour from another. Such an one might declare our marble to be green; and he would be quite as right in saying that it is green, as we are in declaring it to be red. But then, as the marble cannot, in itself, be both green and red, at the same time, this shows that the quality “redness” must be in our consciousness and not in the marble.

In like manner, it is easy to see that the roundness and the hardness are forms of our consciousness, belonging to the groups which we call sensations of sight and touch. If the surface of the cornea were cylindrical, we should have a very different notion of a round body from that which we possess now; and if the strength of the fabric, and the force of the muscles, of the body were increased a hundredfold, our marble would seem to be as soft as a pellet of bread crumbs.

Not only is it obvious that all these qualities are in us, but, if you will make the attempt, you will find it quite impossible to conceive of “blueness,” “roundness,” and “hardness” as existing without reference to some such consciousness as our own. It may seem strange to say that even the “singleness” of the marble is relative to us; but extremely simple experiments will show that such is veritably the case, and that our two most trustworthy senses may be made to contradict one another on this very point. Hold the marble between the finger and thumb, and look at it in the ordinary way. Sight and touch agree that it is single. Now squint, and sight tells you that there are two marbles, while touch asserts that there is only one. Next, return the eyes to their natural position, and, having crossed the forefinger and the middle finger, put the marble between their tips. Then touch will declare that there are two marbles, while sight says that there is only one; and touch claims our belief, when we attend to it, just as imperatively as sight does.

But it may be said, the marble takes up a certain space which could not be occupied, at the same time, by anything else. In other words, the marble has the primary quality of matter, extension. Surely this quality must be in the thing and not in our minds? But the reply must still be; whatever may, or may not, exist in the thing, all that we can know of these qualities is a state of consciousness. What we call extension is a consciousness of a relation between two, or more, affections of the sense of sight, or of touch. And it is wholly inconceivable that what we call extension should exist independently of such consciousness as our own. Whether, notwithstanding this inconceivability, it does so exist, or not, is a point on which I offer no opinion. Thus, whatever our marble may be in itself, all that we can know of it is under the shape of a bundle of our own consciousnesses.

Nor is our knowledge of anything we know or feel more, or less, than a knowledge of states of consciousness. And our whole life is made up of such states. Some of these states we refer to a cause we call “self;” others to a cause or causes which may be comprehended under the title of “not-self.” But neither of the existence of “self,” nor of that of “not-self,” have we, or can we by any possibility have, any such unquestionable and immediate certainty as we have of the states of consciousness which we consider to be their effects. They are not immediately observed facts, but results of the application of the law of causation to those facts. Strictly speaking, the existence of a “self” and of a “not-self” are hypotheses by which we account for the facts of consciousness. They stand upon the same footing as the belief in the general trustworthiness of memory, and in the general constancy of the order of Nature–as hypothetical assumptions which cannot be proved, or known with that highest degree of certainty which is given by immediate consciousness; but which, nevertheless, are of the highest practical value, inasmuch as the conclusions logically drawn from them are always verified by experience.

This, in my judgment, is the ultimate issue of Descartes’ argument; but it is proper for me to point out that we have left Descartes himself some way behind us. He stopped at the famous formula, “I think, therefore I am.” Yet a little consideration will show this formula to be full of snares and verbal entanglements. In the first place, the “therefore” has no business there. The “I am” is assumed in the “I think,” which is simply another way of saying “I am thinking.” And, in the second place, “I think” is not one simple proposition, but three distinct assertions rolled into one. The first of these is, “something called I exists;” the second is, “something called thought exists;” and the third is, “the thought is the result of the action of the I.”

Now, it will be obvious to you, that the only one of these three propositions which can stand the Cartesian test of certainty is the second. It cannot be doubted, for the very doubt is an existent thought. But the first and third, whether true or not, may be doubted, and have been doubted. For the assertor may be asked, How do you know that thought is not self-existent; or that a given thought is not the effect of its antecedent thought, or of some external power? And a diversity of other questions, much more easily put than answered. Descartes, determined as he was to strip off all the garments which the intellect weaves for itself, forgot this gossamer shirt of the “self”; to the great detriment, and indeed ruin of his toilet when he began to clothe himself again.

But it is beside my purpose to dwell upon the minor peculiarities of the Cartesian philosophy. All I wish to put clearly before your minds thus far, is that Descartes, having commenced by declaring doubt to be a duty, found certainty in consciousness alone; and that the necessary outcome of his views is what may properly be termed Idealism; namely, the doctrine that, whatever the universe may be, all we can know of it is the picture presented to us by consciousness. This picture may be a true likeness–though how this can be is inconceivable; or it may have no more resemblance to its cause than one of Bach’s fugues has to the person who is playing it; or than a piece of poetry has to the mouth and lips of a reciter. It is enough for all the practical purposes of human existence if we find that our trust in the representations of consciousness is verified by results; and that, by their help, we are enabled “to walk surefootedly in this life.”

Thus the method, or path which leads to truth, indicated by Descartes, takes us straight to the Critical Idealism of his great successor Kant. It is that Idealism which declares the ultimate fact of all knowledge to be consciousness, or, in other words, a mental phænomenon; and therefore affirms the highest of all certainties, and indeed the only absolute certainty, to be the existence of mind. But it is also that Idealism which refuses to make any assertions, either positive or negative, as to what lies beyond consciousness. It accuses the subtle Berkeley of stepping beyond the limits of knowledge when he declared that a substance of matter does not exist; and of illogicality, for not seeing that the arguments which he supposed demolished the existence of matter were equally destructive to the existence of soul. And it refuses to listen to the jargon of more recent days about the “Absolute” and all the other hypostatised adjectives, the initial letters of the names of which are generally printed in capital letters; just as you give a Grenadier a bearskin cap, to make him look more formidable than he is by nature.

I repeat, the path indicated and followed by Descartes, which we have hitherto been treading, leads through doubt to that critical Idealism which lies at the heart of modern metaphysical thought. But the “Discourse” shows us another, and apparently very different, path, which leads, quite as definitely, to that correlation of all the phænomena of the universe with matter and motion, which lies at the heart of modern physical thought, and which most people call Materialism.

The early part of the seventeenth century, when Descartes reached manhood, is one of the great epochs of the intellectual life of mankind. At that time, physical science suddenly strode into the arena of public and familiar thought, and openly challenged not only Philosophy and the Church, but that common ignorance which often passes by the name of Common Sense. The assertion of the motion of the earth was a defiance to all three, and Physical Science threw down her glove by the hand of Galileo.

It is not pleasant to think of the immediate result of the combat; to see the champion of science, old, worn, and on his knees before the Cardinal Inquisitor, signing his name to what he knew to be a lie. And, no doubt, the Cardinals rubbed their hands as they thought how well they had silenced and discredited their adversary. But two hundred years have passed, and however feeble or faulty her soldiers, Physical Science sits crowned and enthroned as one of the legitimate rulers of the world of thought. Charity children would be ashamed not to know that the earth moves; while the Schoolmen are forgotten; and the Cardinals–well, the Cardinals are at the Œcumenical Council, still at their old business of trying to stop the movement of the world.

As a ship, which having lain becalmed with every stitch of canvas set, bounds away before the breeze which springs up astern, so the mind of Descartes, poised in equilibrium of doubt, not only yielded to the full force of the impulse towards physical science and physical ways of thought, given by his great contemporaries, Galileo and Harvey, but shot beyond them; and anticipated, by bold speculation, the conclusions, which could only be placed upon a secure foundation by the labours of generations of workers.

Descartes saw that the discoveries of Galileo meant that the remotest parts of the universe were governed by mechanical laws; while those of Harvey meant that the same laws presided over the operations of that portion of the world which is nearest to us, namely, our own bodily frame. And crossing the interval between the centre and its vast circumference by one of the great strides of genius, Descartes sought to resolve all the phænomena of the universe into matter and motion, or forces operating according to law. This grand conception, which is sketched in the “Discours,” and more fully developed in the “Principes” and in the “Traite de l’Homme,” he worked out with extraordinary power and knowledge; and with the effect of arriving, in the last-named essay, at that purely mechanical view of vital phænomena towards which modern physiology is striving.

Let us try to understand how Descartes got into this path, and why it led him where it did. The mechanism of the circulation of the blood had evidently taken a great hold of his mind, as he describes it several times, at much length. After giving a full account of it in the “Discourse,” and erroneously ascribing the motion of the blood, not to the contraction of the walls of the heart, but to the heat which he supposes to be generated there, he adds:–

“This motion, which I have just explained, is as much the necessary result of the structure of the parts which one can see in the heart, and of the heat which one may feel there with one’s fingers, and of the nature of the blood, which may be experimentally ascertained; as is that of a clock of the force, the situation, and the figure, of its weight, and of its wheels.”

But if this apparently vital operation were explicable as a simple mechanism, might not other vital operations be reducible to the same category? Descartes replies without hesitation in the affirmative.

“The animal spirits,” says he, “resemble a very subtle fluid, or a very pure and vivid flame, and are continually generated in the heart, and ascend to the brain as to a sort of reservoir. Hence they pass into the nerves and are distributed to the muscles, causing contraction, or relaxation, according to their quantity.”

Thus, according to Descartes, the animal body is an automaton, which is competent to perform all the animal functions in exactly the same way as a clock or any other piece of mechanism. As he puts the case himself:–

“In proportion as these spirits [the animal spirits] enter the cavities of the brain, they pass thence into the pores of its substance, and from these pores into the nerves; where, according as they enter, or even only tend to enter, more or less, into one than into another, they have the power of altering the figure of the muscles into which the nerves are inserted, and by this means of causing all the limbs to move. Thus, as you may have seen in the grottoes and the fountains in royal gardens, the force with which the water issues from its reservoir is sufficient to move various machines, and even to make them play instruments, or pronounce words according to the different disposition of the pipes which lead the water.

“And, in truth, the nerves of the machine which I am describing may very well be compared to the pipes of these waterworks; its muscles and its tendons to the other various engines and springs which seem to move them; its animal spirits to the water which impels them, of which the heart is the fountain; while the cavities of the brain are the central office. Moreover, respiration and other such actions as are natural and usual in the body, and which depend on the course of the spirits, are like the movements of a clock, or of a mill, which may be kept up by the ordinary flow of the water.

“The external objects which, by their mere presence, act upon the organs of the senses; and which, by this means, determine the corporal machine to move in many different ways, according as the parts of the brain are arranged, are like the strangers who, entering into some of the grottoes of these waterworks, unconsciously cause the movements which take place in their presence. For they cannot enter without treading upon certain planks so arranged that, for example, if they approach a bathing Diana, they cause her to hide among the reeds; and if they attempt to follow her, they see approaching a Neptune, who threatens them with his trident: or if they try some other way, they cause some other monster, who vomits water into their faces, to dart out; or like contrivances, according to the fancy of the engineers who have made them. And lastly, when the rational soul is lodged in this machine, it will have its principal seat in the brain, and will take the place of the engineer, who ought to be in that part of the works with which all the pipes are connected, when he wishes to increase, or to slacken, or in some way to alter their movements.”

And again still more strongly:–

“All the functions which I have attributed to this machine (the body), as the digestion of food, the pulsation of the heart and of the arteries; the nutrition and the growth of the limbs; respiration, wakefulness, and sleep; the reception of light, sounds, colours, flavours, heat, and such like qualities, in the organs of the external senses; the impression of the ideas of these in the organ of common sense and in the imagination; the retention, or the impression, of these ideas on the memory; the internal movements of the appetites and the passions; and lastly, the external movements of all the limbs, which follow so aptly, as well the action of the objects which are presented to the senses, as the impressions which meet in the memory, that they imitate as nearly as possible those of a real man: I desire, I say, that you should consider that these functions in the machine naturally proceed from the mere arrangement of its organs, neither more nor less than do the movements of a clock, or other automation, from that of its weights and its wheels; so that, so far as these are concerned, it is not necessary to conceive any other vegetative or sensitive soul, nor any other principle of motion, or of life, than the blood and the spirits agitated by the fire which burns continually in the heart, and which is no wise essentially different from all the fires which exist in inanimate bodies.”

The spirit of these passages is exactly that of the most advanced physiology of the present day; all that is necessary to make them coincide with our present physiology in form, is to represent the details of the working of the animal machinery in modern language, and by the aid of modern conceptions.

Most undoubtedly, the digestion of food in the human body is a purely chemical process; and the passage of the nutritive parts of that food into the blood, a physical operation. Beyond all question, the circulation of the blood is simply a matter of mechanism, and results from the structure and arrangement of the parts of the heart and vessels, from the contractility of those organs, and from the regulation of that contractility by an automatically acting nervous apparatus. The progress of physiology has further shown, that the contractility of the muscles and irritability of the nerves are purely the results of the molecular mechanism of those organs; and that the regular movements of the respiratory, alimentary, and other internal organs are governed and guided, as mechanically, by their appropriate nervous centres. The even rhythm of the breathing of every one of us depends upon the structural integrity of a particular region of the medulla oblongata, as much as the ticking of a clock depends upon the integrity of the escapement. You may take away the hands of a clock and break up its striking machinery, but it will still tick; and a man may be unable to feel, speak, or move, and yet he will breathe.

Again, in entire accordance with Descartes’ affirmation, it is certain that the modes of motion which constitute the physical basis of light, sound, and heat, are transmuted into affections of nervous matter by the sensory organs. These affections are, so to speak, a kind of physical ideas, which are retained in the central organs, constituting what might be called physical memory, and may be combined in a manner which answers to association and imagination, or may give rise to muscular contractions, in those “reflex actions” which are the mechanical representatives of volition.

Consider what happens when a blow is aimed at the eye. Instantly, and without our knowledge or will, and even against the will, the eyelids close. What is it that happens? A picture of the rapidly advancing fist is made upon the retina at the back of the eye. The retina changes this picture into an affection of a number of the fibres of the optic nerve; the fibres of the optic nerve affect certain parts of the brain; the brain, in consequence, affects those particular fibres of the seventh nerve which go to the orbicular muscle of the eyelids; the change in these nerve-fibres causes the muscular fibres to alter their dimensions, so as to become shorter and broader; and the result is the closing of the slit between the two lids, round which these fibres are disposed. Here is a pure mechanism, giving rise to a purposive action, and strictly comparable to that by which Descartes supposes his waterwork Diana to be moved. But we may go further, and inquire whether our volition, in what we term voluntary action, ever plays any other part than that of Descartes’ engineer, sitting in his office, and turning this tap or the other, as he wishes to set one or another machine in motion, but exercising no direct influence upon the movements of the whole.

Our voluntary acts consist of two parts: firstly, we desire to perform a certain action; and, secondly, we somehow set a-going a machinery which does what we desire. But so little do we directly influence that machinery, that nine-tenths of us do not even know of its existence. Suppose one wills to raise one’s arm and whirl it round. Nothing is easier. But the majority of us do not know that nerves and muscles are concerned in this process; and the best anatomist among us would be amazingly perplexed, if he were called upon to direct the succession, and the relative strength, of the multitudinous nerve-changes, which are the actual causes of this very simple operation. So again in speaking. How many of us know that the voice is produced in the larynx, and modified by the mouth? How many among these instructed persons understand how the voice is produced and modified? And what living man, if he had unlimited control over all the nerves supplying the mouth and larynx of another person, could make him pronounce a sentence? Yet, if one has anything to say, what is easier than to say it? We desire the utterance of certain words: we touch the spring of the word-machine, and they are spoken. Just as Descartes’ engineer, when he wanted a particular hydraulic machine to play, had only to turn a tap, and what he wished was done. It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a superinducing of an artificial organisation upon the natural organisation of the body; so that acts, which at first required a conscious effort, eventually became unconscious and mechanical. If the act which primarily requires a distinct consciousness and volition of its details, always needed the same effort, education would be an impossibility.

According to Descartes, then, all the functions which are common to man and animals are performed by the body as a mere mechanism, and he looks upon consciousness as the peculiar distinction of the “chose pensante,” of the “rational soul,” which in man (and in man only, in Descartes’ opinion) is superadded to the body. This rational soul he conceived to be lodged in the pineal gland, as in a sort of central office; and here, by the intermediation of the animal spirits, it became aware of what was going on in the body, or influenced the operations of the body. Modern physiologists do not ascribe so exalted a function to the little pineal gland, but, in a vague sort of way, they adopt Descartes’ principle, and suppose that the soul is lodged in the cortical part of the brain–at least this is commonly regarded as the seat an instrument of consciousness.

Descartes has clearly stated what he conceived to be the difference between spirit and matter. Matter is substance which has extension, but does not think; spirit is substance which thinks, but has no extension. It is very hard to form a definite notion of what this phraseology means, when it is taken in connection with the location of the soul in the pineal gland; and I can only represent it to myself as signifying that the soul is a mathematical point, having place but not extension, within the limits of the pineal body. Not only has it place, but it must exert force; for, according to this hypothesis, it is competent, when it wills, to change the course of the animal spirits, which consist of matter in motion. Thus the soul becomes a centre of force. But, at the same time, the distinction between spirit and matter vanishes; inasmuch as matter, according to a tenable hypothesis, may be nothing but a multitude of centres of force. The case is worse if we adopt the modern vague notion that consciousness is seated in the grey matter of the cerebrum, generally; for, as the grey matter has extension, that which is lodged in it must also have extension. And thus we are led, in another way, to lose spirit in matter.

In truth, Descartes’ physiology, like the modern physiology of which it anticipates the spirit, leads straight to Materialism, so far as that title is rightly applicable to the doctrine that we have no knowledge of any thinking substance, apart from extended substance; and that thought is as much a function of matter as motion is. Thus we arrive at the singular result that, of the two paths opened up to us in the “Discourse upon Method,” the one leads, by way of Berkeley and Hume, to Kant and Idealism; while the other leads, by way of De La Mettrie and Priestley, to modern physiology and Materialism. Our stem divides into two main branches, which grow in opposite ways, and bear flowers which look as different as they can well be. But each branch is sound and healthy and has as much life and vigour as the other.

If a botanist found this state of things in a new plant, I imagine that he might be inclined to think that his tree was monœcious–that the flowers were of different sexes, and that, so far from setting up a barrier between the two branches of the tree, the only hope of fertility lay in bringing them together. I may be taking too much of a naturalist’s view of the case, but I must confess that this is exactly my notion of what is to be done with metaphysics and physics. Their differences are complementary, not antagonistic; and thought will never be completely fruitful until the one unites with the other. Let me try to explain what I mean. I hold, with the Materialist, that the human body, like all living bodies, is a machine, all the operations of which will, sooner or later, be explained on physical principles. I believe that we shall, sooner or later, arrive at a mechanical equivalent of consciousness, just as we have arrived at a mechanical equivalent of heat. If a pound weight falling through a distance of a foot gives rise to a definite amount of heat, which may properly be said to be its equivalent; the same pound weight falling through a foot on a man’s hand gives rise to a definite amount of feeling, which might with equal propriety be said to be its equivalent in consciousness. And as we already know that there is a certain parity between the intensity of a pain and the strength of one’s desire to get rid of that pain; and, secondly, that there is a certain correspondence between the intensity of the heat, or mechanical violence, which gives rise to the pain, and the pain itself; the possibility of the establishment of a correlation between mechanical force and volition becomes apparent. And the same conclusion is suggested by the fact that, within certain limits, the intensity of the mechanical force we exert is proportioned to the intensity of our desire to exert it.

Thus I am prepared to go with the Materialists wherever the true pursuit of the path of Descartes may lead them; and I am glad, on all occasions, to declare my belief that their fearless development of the materialistic aspect of these matters has had an immense, and a most beneficial, influence upon physiology and psychology. Nay, more, when they go farther than I think they are entitled to do–when they introduce Calvinism into science and declare that man is nothing but a machine, I do not see any particular harm in their doctrines, so long as they admit that which is a matter of experimental fact–namely, that it is a machine capable of adjusting itself within certain limits.

I protest that if some great Power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer. The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to any one who will take it of me. But when the Materialists stray beyond the borders of their path and begin to talk about there being nothing else in the universe but Matter and Force and Necessary Laws, and all the rest of their “grenadiers,” I decline to follow them. I go back to the point from which we started, and to the other path of Descartes. I remind you that we have already seen clearly and distinctly, and in a manner which admits of no doubt, that all our knowledge is a knowledge of states of consciousness. “Matter” and “Force” are, as far as we can know, mere names for certain forms of consciousness. “Necessary” means that of which we cannot conceive the contrary. “Law” means a rule which we have always found to hold good, and which we expect always will hold good. Thus it is an indisputable truth that what we call the material world is only known to us under the forms of the ideal world; and, as Descartes tells us, our knowledge of the soul is more intimate and certain than our knowledge of the body. If I say that impenetrability is a property of matter, all that I can really mean is that the consciousness I call extension, and the consciousness I call resistance, constantly accompany one another. Why and how they are thus related is a mystery. And if I say that thought is a property of matter, all that I can mean is that actually or possibly, the consciousness of extension and that of resistance accompany all other sorts of consciousness. But, as in the former case, why they are thus associated is an insoluble mystery.

From all this it follows that what I may term legitimate materialism, that is, the extension of the conceptions and of the methods of physical science to the highest as well as the lowest phænomena of vitality, is neither more nor less than a sort of shorthand Idealism; and Descartes’ two paths meet at the summit of the mountain, though they set out on opposite sides of it.

The reconciliation of physics and metaphysics lies in the acknowledgment of faults upon both sides; in the confession by physics that all the phænomena of Nature are, in their ultimate analysis, known to us only as facts of consciousness; in the admission by metaphysics, that the facts of consciousness are, practically, interpretable only by the methods and the formulæ of physics: and, finally, in the observance by both metaphysical and physical thinkers of Descartes’ maxim–assent to no proposition the matter of which is not so clear and distinct that it cannot be doubted.

When you did me the honour to ask me to deliver this address, I confess I was perplexed what topic to select. For you are emphatically and distinctly a Christian body; while science and philosophy, within the range of which lie all the topics on which I could venture to speak, are neither Christian, nor Unchristian, but are Extra-christian, and have a world of their own, which to use language which will be very familiar to your ears just now, is not only “unsectarian,” but is altogether “secular.” The arguments which I have put before you tonight, for example, are not inconsistent, so far as I know, with any form of theology.

After much consideration, I thought that I might be most useful to you, if I attempted to give you some vision of this Extra-christian world, as it appears to a person who lives a good deal in it; and if I tried to show you by what methods the dwellers therein try to distinguish truth from falsehood, in regard to some of the deepest and most difficult problems that beset humanity, “in order to be clear about their actions, and to walk surefootedly in this life,” as Descartes says.

It struck me that if the execution of my project came anywhere near the conception of it, you would become aware that the philosophers and the men of science are not exactly what they are sometimes represented to you to be; and that their methods and paths do not lead so perpendicularly downwards as you are occasionally told they do. And I must admit, also, that a particular and personal motive weighed with me,–namely, the desire to show that a certain discourse, which brought a great storm about my head some time ago, contained nothing but the ultimate development of the views of the father of modern philosophy. I do not know if I have been quite wise in allowing this last motive to weigh with me. They say that the most dangerous thing one can do in a thunderstorm is to shelter oneself under a great tree, and the history of Descartes’ life shows how narrowly he escaped being riven by the lightnings, which were more destructive in his time than in ours.

Descartes lived and died a good Catholic, and prided himself upon having demonstrated the existence of God and of the soul of man. As a reward for his exertions, his old friends the Jesuits put his works upon the “Index,” and called him an Atheist; while the Protestant divines of Holland declared him to be both a Jesuit and an Atheist. His books narrowly escaped being burned by the hangman; the fate of Vanini was dangled before his eyes; and the misfortunes of Galileo so alarmed him, that he well-nigh renounced the pursuits by which the world has so greatly benefited, and was driven into subterfuges and evasions which were not worthy of him.

“Very cowardly,” you may say; and so it was. But you must make allowance for the fact that, in the seventeenth century, not only did heresy mean possible burning, or imprisonment, but the very suspicion of it destroyed a man’s peace, and rendered the calm pursuit of truth difficult or impossible. I fancy that Descartes was a man to care more about being worried and disturbed, than about being burned outright; and, like many other men, sacrificed for the sake of peace and quietness, what he would have stubbornly maintained against downright violence. However this may be, let those who are sure they would have done better throw stones at him. I have no feelings but those of gratitude and reverence for the man who did what he did, when he did; and a sort of shame that any one should repine against taking a fair share of such treatment as the world thought good enough for him.

Finally, it occurs to me that, such being my feeling about the matter, it may be useful to all of us if I ask you, “What is yours? Do you think that the Christianity of the seventeenth century looks nobler and more attractive for such treatment of such a man?” You will hardly reply that it does. But if it does not, may it not be well if all of you do what lies within your power to prevent the Christianity of the nineteenth century from repeating the scandal?

There are one or two living men, who, a couple of centuries hence, will be remembered as Descartes is now, because they have produced great thoughts which will live and grow as long as mankind lasts.

If the twenty-first century studies their history, it will find that the Christianity of the middle of the nineteenth century recognised them only as objects of vilification. It is for you and such as you, Christian young men, to say whether this shall be as true of the Christianity of the future as it is of that of the present. I appeal to you to say “No,” in your own interest, and in that of the Christianity you profess.

In the interest of Science, no appeal is needful; as Dante sings of Fortune–

“Quest’ è colei, ch’è tanto posta in croce
Pur da color, cho le dovrian dar lode
Dandole biasmo a torto e mala voce.
Ma ella s’ è beata, e ciò non ode:
Con l’ altre prime creature lieta
Volve sua spera, e beata si gode:”*

so, whatever evil voices may rage, Science, secure among the powers that are eternal, will do her work and be blessed.
* “And this is she who’s put on cross so much
Even by them who ought to give her praise,
Giving her wrongly ill repute and blame.
But she is blessed, and she hears not this:
She, with the other primal creatures, glad
Revolves her sphere, and blessed joys herself.”
Inferno, vii. 90–96 (W. M. Rossetti’s Translation).

[I highly recommend the online, annotated version of this essay found at The Huxley File website. Here is a direct link to this particular piece by Huxley at that site: http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE1/DesDis.html]