Wednesday, 1 February 2017


In a quotation given from M. Haeckel's confession of faith, as a man of science, were these words: "Immortality, in a scientific sense, is conservation of substance. Therefore, the same as conservation of energy, as defined by physics, or conservation of matter, as defined by chemistry. The Cosmos, as a whole, is immortal." Could a statement be more obviously contrary to fact, or more grossly absurd? Why speak of "immortality in a scientific sense"? The term immortality has no place in the vocabulary of science. Mortality is liability to death and death is a cessation of organic activities. Therefore immortality may be predicated only of that which is without organism and yet is in the state called life. This is predicated of that which lies behind organism and is its moving power. Dualism affirms that this moving power is something other than the muscular energy that it employs ; and that it may survive the breaking down of its organic habitat. If Haeckel meant indestructibility, he should have used that term ; and then he would have been in error. How can it be applied to the Cosmos as a whole ? True, it is not an organism ; it is an association ; and as an organism may be broken down, possibly the Cosmos as a system may be greatly changed, by its becoming more concentrated or more diffused.
 Conservation of energy in physics is understood to be change of place without loss. But in experiment, the change cannot be made without loss so far as practical purposes are concerned. It is only a theory of the scientist that the energy that is lost in transmission for practical purposes escapes him only to become useful in another way. Conservation of matter, in chemistry, as suggested by Haeckel, assuredly is unknown ; for no chemist nowadays speaks of the conservation of matter. In breaking down conglomerate bodies they are resolved into ordinary chemical substances. But in breaking down certain substances, they are resolved into their original energies. Haeckel attempts to justify himself in making his statements by adding: "It is just as inconceivable that any atoms of our brain, or of the energies of our spirit should vanish out of the world as that any other particle of matter or energy could do so." These words would appear to suggest that Haeckel is profoundly ill informed in chemistry and physics, however great he may have been as a physiologist. The effort which he made to write down the words just quoted required a definite amount of energy. Whence came that energy ? It was the product of so much tissue used up in producing the energy. If that were not the case, one would never suffer from a sense of weariness ; never would one require rest or food, for making good any loss of tissue from exertion. Take as an example the use of machinery. The mediate product of machine activity is energy. Whence came it? It must have come from material objects or matter, which, on being broken down, became, not simple substances, the ordinary elements of terrestrial chemistry, it returned to its original condition— that is, energy, whose concentration in the first instance produced the material object. Hereupon then Haeckel simply plays the cuttlefish. He densely discolours the water in which he is swimming, that he may make good his escape. Further, he appears to have blundered as to his own monistic theory, when speaking of the energies of our spirit. What is meant by those words; if they do not signify that the brain, with its atoms, and the spirit, with its energies, are two perfectly distinct realities, however closely united in the living man? In that case, what is to become of Haeckel's monism?
 Before further examining this part of the subject, we may give another quotation from his confession of faith on immortality. "It is often asserted by the numerous advocates of personal immortality that this dogma is an innate one, common to all rational men, and that it is taught in all the more perfect forms of religion. But this is not correct. Neither Buddhism, nor the religion of Moses originally contained the dogma of personal immortality, and just as little did the majority of educated people of classical antiquity believe it, at any rate during the highest period of Greek culture. The monistic philosophy of that time, which, five hundred years before our era, had reached speculative heights so remarkable, knew nothing of any such dogma. It was through Plato and Christ that it received its further elaboration, until, in the middle ages, it was so universally accepted, that only now and then did some bold thinker dare openly to gain say it. The idea that a conviction of personal immortality has a specially ennobling influence on the moral nature of man, is not confirmed by the gruesome history of medieval morals, and as little by the psychology of primitive peoples !"
 One does not accept Haeckel's historic sketch of human belief in personal immortality. The Book of Job is older than the writings of Moses. It is a very ancient piece of dramatic philosophy. In it, the question of personal immortality is mentioned. It is not true that Plato elaborated the doctrine of personal immortality. The author must be referring to Plato's doctrine of Ideas ; nor was he the author, but only the elaborator of that doctrine. It was a conception by Anaxagoras. He predicated "nous" or mind, as an active cause, and a world ordering intelligence. Metaphysically Plato found what may be termed a nous or essence in all things. It was that along which he graded all existing objects from individual to genus. Hardly can it be said that Jesus Christ elaborated the doctrine of a personal immortality, though He may have made some contributions to popular belief on this subject. Its elaboration was the work of Paul rather than of Jesus. After him, no doubt, came the elaborators of the middle ages, the men who formulated creeds. Some of them may be condemned, though not in the high falutin words of Haeckel, as given in the following quotation : "If any antiquated school of purely speculative psychology still continues to uphold this irrational dogma, the fact can only be regarded as a deplorable anachronism. Sixty years ago such a doctrine was excusable, for then nothing was accurately known either of the finer structure of the brain, or of the physiological functions of its separate parts; its elementary organs, the microscopic ganglion-cells, were almost unknown, as was also the cell-soul of the protista ; very imperfect ideas were held as to ontogenetic development, and as to phylogenetic there were none at all."
 Only those who believe in creeds as given by the churches can defend them. To others they are indefensible, because, in so many respects they are so self-contradictory. One of the creeds calls on us to believe in the resurrection of the body. Paul did not teach the resurrection of the body. He taught the resurrection of the dead. His theory was that the spirit survived, and that for its habitation, it had a congenial form called a body. The change was suggested though not paralleled by the production of a new body from a seed or germ, each and every seed or germ having its own body. A charge is made against all believers in personal immortality to the effect that they expect a very literal resurrection of the earthly body. In support thereof, Haeckel quotes very many authorities : "Perhaps in no ecclesiastical article of faith is the gross materialistic conception of Christian dogma so evident as in the cherished doctrine of personal immortality, and that of 'the resurrection of the body,' associated with it. As to this, Savage, in his excellent work on 'Religion in the Light of the Darwinian Doctrine,' has well remarked : 'One of the standing accusations of the church against science is that it is materialistic. On this I would like to point out, in passing, that the whole church conception concerning a future life has always been, and still is, the purest materialism. It is represented that the material body is to rise again, and inhabit a material heaven.' " Here once more we are invited to believe that a certain statement is true, because made by a great number of celebrated writers. If writers on this subject were as numberless as sand on the sea shore, it would not be true to say that all believers in a personal immortality hold that the present physical body will be raised from the grave. But in all this we are allowing Haeckel more or less to slip out of hand. He has undertaken to prove his monistic theory, first by denying a resurrection of the natural body, which has nothing to do with the subject ; then by affirming the "immortality" of the Cosmos, and of matter and energy, which has nothing to do with the subject ; and further by denying that which Herbert Spencer, himself a monistic believer, allows— namely, that "energy was prior to things." And Haeckel himself allows that the energies of the spirit are indestructible. If the energies are, the spirit must be. But in any case this is not a contention for the immortality even of the spirit, but for its existence as an entity as real as that of the organism within which at present it is enshrined; and therefore suggesting the being of the great spirit, author and ruler of all.

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Saturday 1 July 1911, page 12

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