Friday, 2 May 2014


[BY S. G. MEK.]
IN penning these brief sketches of eminent scientists and philosophers, I am impelled by no desire to give offence or pain to any who may peruse them, but simply, in the interests of truth, to demonstrate the inevitably iconoclastic attitude of science and philosophy towards the current creeds of this nineteenth century. I know that alarmed numbers attached to those creeds believe that, with their abolition—with the rejection of their several dogmas and schemes of what is called "salvation"—a social cataclysm must inevitably ensue, and society in the aggregate become involved in moral wreck and ruin. Professor Tyndall, in his "Review of the "Life and Letters of Faraday by Dr. Henry Bence Jones," very forcibly combats this fear by quoting the opinion upon this point of Faraday himself, who, though belonging to a Christian sect (the Pandemonians), declared morality to be independent of so-called religion. " It is worth while enquiring" says Tyndall, " how so profoundly religious a mind, and so great a teacher, would be likely to regard our present discussions on the subject of education. Faraday would be a ' secularist,' were he now alive. He had no sympathy with those who contemn knowledge unless it be accompanied by dogma. A lecture delivered before the City Philosophical Society in 1818, when he was twenty-fix years of age, expresses the views regarding education. which he entertained to the end of his life. ' First, then,' he says, ' all theological considerations are banished from the society, and, of course, from my remarks ; and whatever I may say has no reference to a future state, or to the means which are to be adopted in this world in anticipation of it. Next I have no intention of substituting anything for religion, but I wish to take that part of human nature which is independent of it. Morality, philosophy, commerce, the various, institutions and habits of society, are independent of religion, and may exist either with or without it. They are always the same and can dwell alike in the breasts of those who from opinion are entirely opposed in the set of principles they include in the term religion, or in those who have none." Now here you have the opinion upon this much-vexed point of a profound philosopher and scientist combined —for such indeed was Faraday.
  From the foregoing utterance of the great and good Faraday, it is pleasing as it is profitable to notice how effectually Science not only enlarges, but humanises, the minds of its ardent votaries. How tolerant, too, of those diametrically opposed in belief to them it renders them !  “Morality,” Faraday asserts, “ is independent of religion.” How entirely different is this hypothesis to that of numbers of nominal religionists, who, as we have said, seem to think that it is only by the reception of certain dogmas —only, in fact, by believing (or pretending to believe) in the incredible—that a human being can be kept moral and true, and loyal to his fellow-creatures ! Alas ! for the proofs of their belief ! Charles Guiteau, the assassin of the noble American President (who, in his mortal agony, sent , not for a priest, but for the eminent and amiable Freethinker,  Col. Robert Ingersoll !) professed, not long ago, to have been "converted," and delivered, in New York, several lectures under the auspices of the Young Men's Christian Association. The strangely "moral" Glasgow Bank Directors were too all ardent pietists! The unhappy bank clerk lately sent to prison for robbery in Victoria was, it was said, about entering the ministry. At the very time Archbishop Vaughan was denouncing the public schools of New South Wales as " the seed-plots of immorality, infidelity, and crime," and proclaiming his schools and his church to be the sole and infallible protectors and cherishers of public morals, Rogan (of the Moonlight gang) was led to the scaffold by one of the priests of that immaculate church ; Nesbitt, another of that hideous gang—whom his chief, Scott, averred to have been " well-trained " by the Christian Brothers— was saved from that scaffold by the avenging bullet of the policeman ; Scott himself, the arch miscreant, was the son of a clergyman, had been sedulously trained in the dogmas of the Anglican Church, and piously posed for a time as a Scripture-reader at Bacchus Marsh ! Then, in reply to the slanderous imputations cast by the voluble Archbishop upon the noble public schools of America, making them out too, " seed-plots " of all that was vile and infamous, came a statement from an indignant editor of one of the leading journals of that intellectual land to the startling effect that, in the gaols of America ninety out of every one hundred of the criminals within their walls were furnished from the folds of that infallible old church. These are facts; and they prove incontestably the utter impotence of creeds and dogmas to make men moral, or hinder them from committing the most abhorrent and detestable crimes. It is only by crushing or rendering torpid the human intellect, by corrupting and corroding creeds that a gang of wild beasts like the late Kelly gang could ever have been created! No ; let us be assured that the teachings of a mythology can never evolve the practice of morality. Nobly Professor Tyndall defends those who have for ever eschewed those soul-debasing dogmas of our creed corrupted Christendom. " It may comfort some to know," he says, " that there are amongst as many whom the gladiators of the pulpit would call ' Atheists' and ' Materialists,' whose lives, nevertheless, as tested by any accessible standard of morality, would contrast more than favorably with the lives of those who seek to stamp them with this offensive brand. When I say ' offensive,' I refer simply to the intention of those who use such terms, and not because Atheism and Materialism, when compared with many of the notions ventilated in the columns of religious newspapers, has any particular offensiveness for me. If I wished to find men who are scrupulous in their adherence to engagements; whose words are their bond, and to whom moral shiftiness of any kind is subjectively unknown ; if I wanted a loving father, a faithful husband, an honorable neighbor, and a just citizen—I should seek him and find him among the band of ' Atheists' to which I refer. I have known some of the most pronounced among them, not only in life, but in death—seen them approaching with open eyes the inexorable gaol, with no dread of a ' hangman's whip ' with no hope of a heavenly crown, and still as mindful of their duties, and as faithful in the discharge of them, as if their eternal future depended upon their latest deeds."
Then, in conclusion, the following dictum of Professor Tyndall is worthy of all acceptation " Not in the way assumed by our dogmatic teachers has the morality of human nature been propped up. The power which has moulded us thus far has worked with stern tools upon a very rigid stuff. What it has done cannot be so readily undone ; and it has endowed us with moral constitutions which take pleasure in the noble, the beautiful, and the true, just as surely as it has endowed us with sentient organisms which find aloes bitter and sugar sweet. That power did not work with delusions, nor will it stay its hand when such are removed. Facts rather than dogmas have been its ministers—hunger and thirst, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, sympathy, shame, pride, love, hate, terror, awe—such were the forces, the interaction and adjustment of which during the immeasurable ages of his development wore the triplex web of man's physical, intellectual, and moral nature and such are the forces that will be effectual to the end."

 The Northern Miner  15 December 1881,

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