Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Are the Phenomena of Spiritualism in
Harmony with Science? (S379: 1885)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Originally published in The Sunday Herald (Boston) of 26 April 1885. The very lightly revised version reproduced here appeared in The Medium and Daybreak of 18 December 1885. Original pagination (of The Medium and Daybreak reprint) indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S379.htm


    [[p. 809]] "Life is the elaboration of soul through the varied transformations of matter." --Spiritual Evolution.

    It is a common, but I believe a mistaken, notion, that the conclusions of Science are antagonistic to the alleged phenomena of modern Spiritualism. The majority of our teachers and students of science are, no doubt, antagonistic, but their opinions and prejudices are not science. Every discoverer who has promulgated new and startling truths, even in the domain of physics, has been denounced or ignored by those who represented the science of the day, as witness the long line of great teachers from Galileo in the dark ages to Boucher de Perthes in our own times. But the opponents of Spiritualism have the additional advantage of being able to brand the new belief as a degrading superstition, and to accuse those who accept its facts and its teachings of being the victims of delusion or imposture--of being, in fact, either half-insane enthusiasts or credulous fools. Such denunciations, however, affect us little. The fact that Spiritualism has firmly established itself in our sceptical and materialistic age, that it has continuously grown and developed for nearly forty years, that by mere weight of evidence, and in spite of the most powerful prepossessions, it has compelled recognition by an ever-increasing body of men in all classes of society, and has gained adherents in the highest ranks of science and philosophy, and, finally, that despite abuse and misrepresentation, the folly of enthusiasts and the knavery of impostors, it has rarely failed to convince those who have made a thorough and painstaking investigation, and has never lost a convert thus made--all this affords a conclusive answer to the objections so commonly urged against it. Let us, then, simply ignore the scorn and incredulity of those who really know nothing of the matter, and consider, briefly, what are the actual relations of Science and Spiritualism, and to what extent the latter supplements and illumines the former.

    Science may be defined as knowledge of the universe in which we live--full and systematised knowledge leading to the discovery of laws and the comprehension of causes. The true student of science neglects nothing and despises nothing that may widen and deepen his knowledge of nature, and if he is wise as well as learned he will hesitate before he applies the term "impossible" to any facts which are widely believed and have been repeatedly observed by men as intelligent and honest as himself. Now, modern Spiritualism rests solely on the observation and comparison of facts in a domain of nature which has been hitherto little explored, and it is a contradiction in terms to say that such an investigation is opposed to science. Equally absurd is the allegation that some of the phenomena of Spiritualism "contradict the laws of nature," since there is no law of nature yet known to us but may be apparently contravened by the action of more recondite laws or forces. Spiritualists observe facts and record experiments, and then construct hypotheses which will best explain and co-ordinate the facts, and in so doing they are pursuing a truly scientific course. They have now collected an enormous body of observations tested and verified in every possible way, and they have determined many of the conditions necessary for the production of the phenomena. They have also arrived at certain general conclusions as to the causes of these phenomena, and they simply refuse to recognise the competence of those who have no acquaintance whatever with the facts, to determine the value or correctness of those conclusions.

    We who have satisfied ourselves of the reality of the phenomena of modern Spiritualism in all their wide-reaching extent and endless variety, are enabled to look upon the records of the past with new interest and fuller appreciation. It is surely something to be relieved from the necessity of classing Socrates and St. Augustine, Luther and Swedenborg, as the credulous victims of delusion or imposture. The so-called miracles and supernatural events which pervade the sacred books and historical records of all nations find their place among natural phenomena, and need no longer be laboriously explained away. The witchcraft mania of Europe and America affords the materials for an important study, since we are now able to detect the basis of fact on which it rested, and to separate from it the Satanic interpretation which invested it with horror, and appeared to justify the cruel punishments by which it was attempted to be suppressed. Local folk-lore and superstitions acquire a living interest, since they are often based on phenomena which we can reproduce under proper conditions, and the same may be said of much of the sorcery and magic of the Middle Ages. In these and many other ways history and anthropology are illuminated by Spiritualism.

    [[p. 810]] To the teacher of religion it is of vital importance, since it enables him to meet the sceptic on his own ground, to adduce facts and evidence for the faith that he professes, and to avoid that attitude of apology and doubt which renders him altogether helpless against the vigorous assaults of Agnosticism and materialistic science. Theology, when vivified and strengthened by Spiritualism, may regain some of the influence and power of its earlier years.

    Science will equally benefit, since it will have opened to it a new domain of surpassing interest. Just as there is behind the visible world of nature an "unseen universe" of forces, the study of which continually opens up fresh worlds of knowledge often intimately connected with the true comprehension of the most familiar phenomena of nature, so the world of mind will be illuminated by the new facts and principles which the study of Spiritualism makes known to us. Modern science utterly fails to realize the nature of mind or to account for its presence in the universe, except by the mere verbal and unthinkable dogma that it is "the product of organization." Spiritualism, on the other hand, recognises in Mind the cause of organization, and, perhaps, even of matter itself; and it has added greatly to our knowledge of man's nature, by demonstrating the existence of individual minds indistinguishable from those of human beings, yet separate from any human body. It has made us acquainted with forms of matter of which materialistic science has no cognizance, and with an ethereal chemistry whose transformations are far more marvellous than any of those with which science deals. It thus gives us proof that there are possibilities of organized existence beyond those of our material world, and in doing so removes the greatest stumbling-block in the way of belief in a future state of existence--the impossibility so often felt by the student of material science of separating the conscious mind from its partnership with the brain and nervous system.

    On the spiritual theory man consists essentially of a spiritual nature or mind intimately associated with a spiritual body or soul, both of which are developed in and by means of a material organism. Thus the whole raison d'être of the material universe--with all its marvellous changes and adaptations, the infinite complexity of matter and of the ethereal forces which pervade and vivify it, the vast wealth of nature in the vegetable and animal kingdoms--is to serve the grand purpose of developing human spirits in human bodies.

    This world-life not only lends itself to the production, by gradual evolution, of the physical body needed for the growth and nourishment of the human soul, but by its very imperfections tends to the continuous development of the higher spiritual nature of man. In a perfect and harmonious world perfect beings might possibly have been created but could hardly have been evolved, and it may well be that evolution is the great fundamental law of the universe of mind as well as of that of matter. The need for labour in order to live, the constant struggle against the forces of nature, the antagonism of the good and the bad, the oppression of the weak by the strong, the painstaking and devoted search required to wrest from nature her secret powers and hidden treasures--all directly assist in developing the varied powers of mind and body and the nobler impulses of our nature. Thus, all the material imperfections of our globe, the wintry blasts and summer heats, the volcano, the whirlwind and the flood, the barren desert and the gloomy forest, have each served as stimuli to develop and strengthen man's intellectual nature; while the oppression and wrong, the ignorance and crime, the misery and pain, that always and everywhere pervade the world, have been the means of exercising and strengthening the higher sentiments of justice, mercy, charity, and love, which we all feel to be our best and noblest characteristics, and which it is hardly possible to conceive could have been developed by any other means.*

    Such a view as this affords us the best attainable solution of the great world-old problem of the origin of evil; for it is the very means of creating and developing the higher moral attributes of man, those attributes which alone render him fit for a permanent spiritual existence and for continuous progression, then the mere temporary sin and misery of the world must be held to be fully justified by the supreme nature and permanent character of what they lead to. From this point of view the vision of the poet becomes to us the best expression of the truth. We, too, believe that

"All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction which thus canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good."
    Finally, these teachings of modern Spiritualism furnish us with the much-needed basis of a true ethical system. We learn by them that our earth-life is not only a preparation for a higher state of progressive spiritual existence, but that what we have usually considered as its very worst features, its all-pervading sin and suffering, are in all probability the only means of developing in us those highest moral qualities summarized as "love" by St. Paul and "altruism" by our modern teachers, which all admit must be cultivated and extended to the utmost if we are really to make progress toward a higher social state. Modern philosophers can, however, give no sufficient reason why we should practise these virtues. If, as they teach us, not only our own lives end here, but the life of the whole human race is sure to end some day, it is difficult to see any adequate outcome of the painful self-sacrifice they inculcate; while there is certainly no motive adduced which will be sufficiently powerful to withdraw from selfish pleasures that numerous class which derives from them its chief enjoyment. But when men are taught from childhood that the whole material universe exists for the very purpose of developing beings possessing these attributes, that evil and pain, sin and suffering, all tend to the same end, and that the characters developed in this world will make further progress towards a nobler and happier existence in the spiritual world, just in proportion as their higher moral feelings are cultivated here--and when all this can be taught, not as a set of dogmas to be blindly accepted on the authority of unknown ancient writers, but as being founded on direct knowledge of the spirit-world, and the continued actual reception of teachings from it, then indeed we shall have in our midst "a power that makes for righteousness."

    Thus, modern Spiritualism, though usually despised and rejected by the learned, is yet able to give valuable aid to science and to religion, to philosophy and to morals. Not only does it offer us a solid basis for a solution of some of the profoundest mysteries of our being, but it affords us a secure hope, founded not on reason and faith only, but on actual knowledge, that our conscious life does not perish with our physical body. To all who will earnestly inquire it gives:--

"The deep assurance that the wrongs of life
Will find their perfect guerdon! That the scheme
So broken here will elsewhere be fulfilled!
Hope not a dreamer's dream!
Love's long last yearnings satisfied, not stilled!"
 

Note Appearing in the Original Work

*This argument applies of course to other worlds and systems, all of which, on the spiritual hypothesis, either have been or will be the scenes of the development of human souls. [[on p. 810]]  [[Editor's Note: This note may or may not have been inserted by Wallace; some reprintings of the original Sunday Herald version of the essay--which did include it--retain it, and some do not.]]


*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home