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

 
 
Is Pre-existence a Necessary Corollary
of Future Existence? (S422a: 1890)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 290 of the 14 June 1890 issue of Light (London). To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S422A.htm


     Sir,--Mr. Paice says that to him and others "previous existence is as certain as the after existence which we hold to be proved"; and other writers in "Light" have expressed the same opinion, and have urged that an infinite future implies, logically, an infinite past. Like yourself, Mr. Editor, I am quite unable to see this; while the difficulties in the way of accepting any such universal law appear to me to be insuperable.

     I should like to state a few of these difficulties. If a personal existence, which persists after physical death, implies necessarily a personal existence before physical birth, it can only be on the metaphysical ground that a life which is to have no end cannot have had any beginning, and this is the ground on which it has been urged. But, if so, we are met with this difficulty--either the life we now possess has grown or developed to its present condition, or it has not. If it has so grown or developed, then, however slow that growth may have been, yet in an infinite past it must have reached infinite development. With progress or growth of any kind whatever, a finite and measurable development necessarily implies a finite period of growth--that is, a beginning; and if so, that beginning may just as logically be at each person's birth into this world as at any far removed period of past time.

     If, on the other hand, we are not growing or developing beings, then our existence, in our present grade of imperfection, throughout a past and for a future eternity, is as near an approach to a logical and unthinkable absurdity as anything can be.

     Development, however, will probably be granted by Mr. Paice and those who think with him; and, therefore, I submit, eternal pre-existence is a contradiction. If we are to progress in the future and have progressed in the past, then we certainly had a beginning. But this by no means implies that we must necessarily have an end. It seems to be merely the word "infinite," with its unthinkable implications, that has led to this idea. With an infinite and eternal universe (and we cannot possibly think of it as finite either in time or space) infinite developments of being both in number and gradation are possible, of beings ever beginning but never ending.

     Of course, the whole question relates to personal existences with permanent (if partially discontinuous) identities. As to the rudiments or soul-stuff out of which such personality first arises it is not worth while arguing, as we have no facts to go upon. But the difficulty of the diverse natures with which we are born, and which to many seems to need re-incarnation or "karma" to explain, appears to me to be no difficulty at all. I look on these diverse natures as the necessary result of the mode of increase of all but the lowest organisms, through the agency of male and female. This mode of increase has been the means of supplying the variations which have led to the continuous development of the organic world with all its myriad forms of use and beauty; in mankind they lead to that infinite diversity of intellectual and moral nature, of tastes, habits, faculties, and inspirations, which are, in all probability, by their action and reaction on each other, equally essential for the full development of the highest nature of man. Any theory like Re-incarnation suggests, to my mind, a crude and clumsy mode of development, as unnecessary as it is unsupported by any facts or analogies either in the material or the spiritual universe.

Alfred R. Wallace.


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