Huxley and Slade: Who is More Guilty of “False Pretences”?
Banner of Light, October 28, 1876
To the Editor of the Banner of Light:
Sir—As I see the issue that has been raised by Dr. Hallock with Mr. Huxley, it suggests to me the comparison of two men looking at the same distant object through a telescope. The Doctor, having taken the usual precautions, brings the object within close range where it can be studied at one’s leisure; but the naturalist, having forgotten to remove the cap, sees only the reflection of his own image.
Though the materialists may find it hard to answer even the brief criticisms of the Doctor, yet it appears that Mr. Huxley’s New York lectures—as they present themselves to me in their naked desolation—suggest one paramount idea which Dr. Hallock has not touched upon. I need scarcely say to you, who must have read the report of these would-be iconoclastic lectures, that this idea is one of the “false pretenses” of modern science. After all the flourish which attended his coming, all the expectations that had been aroused, all the secret apprehensions of the church and the anticipated triumph of the materialists, what did he teach us that was really new or so extremely suggestive? Nothing, positively nothing. Exclude a sight of his personality, the sound of his well-trained voice, the reflection of his scientific glory, and the result may be summed up thus: “Cr.: Thomas H. Huxley, £1,000.”
Of him it may be said, as it has of other teachers before, that what he said that was new was not true; and that which was true was not new. Without going into details, for the moment it suffices to say that the materialistic theory of evolution is far from being demonstrated, while the thought that Mr. Huxley does not grasp—i.e., the double evolution of spirit and matter—is imparted under the form of various legends in the oldest parts of the Rigvedas (the Aitareya-Brâhmana). Only the benighted Hindus, it seems, made the trifling improvement over modern science, of hooking a First Cause on the further end of the chain of evolution.
In the Chaturhôtri Mantra (Book V. [ch. iv, § 23] of the Aitareya Brahmana) the Goddess Earth (iyam), who is termed the Queen of the Serpents (Sarpa), for she is the mother of everything that moves (Sarpat), was in the beginning of time completely bald. She was nothing but one round head, which was soft to the touch (i.e., a “gelatinous mass”). Being distressed at her baldness, she called for help to the great Vâyu, the Lord of the airy regions; she prayed him to teach her the Mantra (invocation or sacrificial prayer, a certain part of the Veda), which would confer on her the magical power of creating things (generation). He complied, and then as soon as the Mantra was pronounced by her “in the proper metre” she found herself covered with hair (vegetation). She was now hard to the touch, for the Lord of the air had breathed upon her—(the globe had cooled). She had become of a variegated or motley appearance, and suddenly acquired the power to produce out of herself every animate and inanimate form, and to change one form to another. “Therefore in like manner,” says the sacred book, “the man who has such a knowledge (of the Mantras) obtains the faculty of assuming any shape or form he likes.”
It will scarcely be said that this allegory is capable of more than one interpretation, viz.: that the ancient Hindus many centuries before the Christian era taught the doctrine of evolution. Martin Haug, the Sanskrit scholar, asserts that the Vedas were already in existence from 2,000 to 2,200 B.C.
Thus, while the theory of evolution is nothing new, and may be considered a proven fact, the new ideas forced upon the public by Mr. Huxley are only undemonstrated hypotheses; and as such, liable to be exploded the first fine day upon the discovery of some new fact. We find no admission of this, however, in Mr. Huxley’s communications to the public, but the unproved theories are enunciated with as much boldness as though they were established scientific facts corroborated by unerring laws of nature. Notwithstanding that, the world is asked to revere the great Evolutionist only because he stands under the shadow of a great name.
What is this but one of the many false pretences of the Sciolists? And yet Huxley and his admirers charge the believers in the evolution of spirit with the same crime of false pretences, because, forsooth, our theories are as yet undemonstrated. Those who believe in Slade’s spirits are “lost to reason,” while those who can see embryonic man in Huxley’s “gelatinous mass,” are accepted as the progressive minds of the age. Slade is arraigned before the magistrate for taking $5 from Lankester, while Huxley triumphantly walks away with $5,000 of American gold in his pockets, which was paid him for imparting to us the mirific fact that man evolved from the hind toe of a pedactyl horse!
Now, arguing from the standpoint of strict justice, in what respect is a Materialistic theorist any better than a Spiritualistic one? And in what degree is the evolution of man—independent of Divine and Spiritual interference—better proven by the toe-bone of an extinct horse, than the evolution and survival of the human spirit by the writing upon a screwed-up slate by some unseen power or powers? And yet again, the soulless Huxley sails away laden with flowers like a fashionable corpse, conquering and to conquer in fresh fields of glory, while the poor medium is haled before a police magistrate as a “vagrant and a swindler,” without proof enough to sustain the charge before an unprejudiced tribunal.
There is good authority for the statement that psychological science is a debatable land upon which the modern physiologist hardly dares to venture. I deeply sympathize with the embarrassed student of the physical side of nature. We all can readily understand how disagreeable it must be to a learned theorist ever aspiring for the elevation of his hobby to the dignity of an accepted scientific truth, constantly to receive the lie direct from his remorseless and untiring antagonist—psychology. To see his cherished materialistic theories become every day more untenable, until they are reduced to the condition of mummies swathed in shrouds, self-woven and inscribed with a farrago of pet sophistries, is indeed—hard.
And yet in their self-satisfying logic these Sons of Matter reject every testimony but their own: the divine entity of the Socratic daïmonion, the ghost of Cæsar, and Cicero’s Divinum Quiddam, they explain by epilepsy; and the prophetic oracles of the Jewish Bath-Kol are set down as hereditary hysteria!
And now, supposing the great protoplasmist to have proved to the general satisfaction that the present horse is an effect of gradual development from the Orohippus, or four-toed horse of the Eocene formation, which, passing further through the Miocene and Pliocene periods, has become the modern honest Equus, does Huxley thereby prove that man has also developed from a one-toed human being? For nothing short of that could demonstrate his theory. To be consistent he must show that while the horse was losing at each successive period a toe, man has in reversed order acquired an additional one at each new formation; and, unless we are shown the fossilized remains of man in a series of one-, two-, three-, and four-toed anthropoid apelike beings antecedent to the present perfected Homo, what does Huxley’s theory amount to? Nobody doubts that everything has evolved out of something prior to itself. But, as it is, he leaves us hopelessly in doubt whether it is man who is a hipparionic or equine evolution, or the antediluvian Equus that evolved from the primitive genus Homo!
Thus, to apply the argument to Slade’s case, we may say that, whether the messages on his slate indicate an authorship among the returning spirits of antediluvian monkeys, or the Bravos and Lankestrian ancestors of our day, he is no more guilty of false pretences than the $5,000 Evolutionist. Hypothesis, whether of scientist or medium, is no false pretence; but unsupported assertion is, when people are charged money for it.
If, satisfied with the osseous fragments of a Hellenized or Latinized skeleton, we admit that there is a physical evolution, by what logic can we refuse to credit the possibility of an evolution of spirit? That there are two sides to the question, no one but an utter Psychophobist will deny. It may be argued that even if the Spiritualists have demonstrated their bare facts, their philosophy is incomplete, since it has missing links. But no more have the Evolutionists. They have fossil remains which prove that once upon a time the ancestors of the modern horse were blessed with three and even four toes and fingers, the fourth answering “to the little finger of the human hand,” and that the protohippus rejoiced in “a fore arm.” Spiritualists in their turn exhibit entire hands, arms and even bodies in support of their theory that the dead still live and revisit us. For my part I cannot see that the osteologists have the better of them. Both follow the inductive or purely scientific method, proceeding from particulars to universals; thus Cuvier, upon finding a small bone, traced around it imaginary lines until he had built up from his prolific fancy a whole mammoth. The data of scientists are no more certain than those of Spiritualists; and while the former have but their modern discoveries upon which to build their theories, Spiritualists may cite the evidence of a succession of ages, which began long prior to the advent of modern science.
An inductive hypothesis, we are told, is demonstrated when the facts are shown to be in an entire accordance with it. Thus, if Huxley possesses conclusive evidence of the evolution of man in the genealogy of the horse, Spiritualists can equally claim that proof of the evolution of spirit out of the body is furnished in the materialized, more or less substantial, limbs that float in the dark shadows of the cabinet, and often in full light; a phenomenon which has been recognized and attested by numberless generations of wise men of every country. As to the pretended superiority of modern over ancient science, we have only the word of the former for it. This is also an hypothesis; better evidence is required to prove the fact. We have but to turn to Wendell Phillips’ lecture on the Lost Arts to have a certain right to doubt the assurance of modern science.
Speaking of evidence, it is strange what different and arbitrary values may be placed upon the testimony of different men equally trustworthy and well-meaning. Says the parent of protoplasm:
“It is impossible that one’s practical life should not be more or less influenced by the views which we may hold as to what has been the past history of things. One of them is human testimony in its various shapes—all testimony of eye-witnesses, traditional testimony from the lips of those who have been eye-witnesses, and the testimony of those who have put their impressions into writing or into print.”
On just such testimony, amply furnished in the Bible (evidence which Mr. Huxley rejects), and in many other less problematical authors than Moses, among whom may be reckoned generations of great philosophers, theurgists, and laymen, Spiritualists have a right to base their fundamental doctrines. Speaking further of the broad distinction to be drawn between the different kinds of evidence, some being more valuable than others, because given upon grounds not clear, upon grounds illogically stated, and upon such as do not bear thorough and careful inspection, the same gelatinist remarks:
“For example, if I read in your history of Tennessee (Ramsay’s), that one hundred years ago this country was peopled by wandering savages, my belief in this statement rests upon the conviction that Mr. Ramsay was actuated by the same sort of motives that men are now; . . . that he himself was, like ourselves, not inclined to make false statements. . . . If you read Cæsar’s Commentaries, wherever he gives an account of his battles with the Gauls, you place a certain amount of confidence in his statements. You take his testimony upon this. You feel that Cæsar would not have made these statements unless he had believed them to be true.”
Profound philosophy! precious thoughts! gems of condensed, gelatinous truth! long may it stick to the American mind. Mr. Huxley ought to devote the rest of his days to writing primers for the feeble-minded adults of the United States. But why select Cæsar as the type of the trustworthy witness of ancient times? And, if we must implicitly credit his reports of battles, why not his profession of faith in augurs, diviners and apparitions? For, in common with his wife, Calphurnia, he believed in them as firmly as any Modern Spiritualist in his mediums and phenomena.
We also feel that no more than Cæsar would such men as Cicero and Herodotus and Livy and a host of others “have made these false statements” or reported such things “unless they believed them to be true.”
It has already been shown that the doctrine of evolution, as a whole, was taught in the Rig-Vedas, and I may also add that it can be found in the most ancient of the Books of Hermes. This is bad enough for the claim to originality set up by our modern scientists; but what shall be said when we recall the fact that the very pedactyl horse, the finding of whose footprints has so overjoyed Mr. Huxley, was mentioned by ancient writers (Herodotus and Pliny, if I mistake not), and was once outrageously laughed at by the French Academicians? Let those who wish to verify the fact read Salverte’s “Philosophy of Occult Science,” translated by Anthony Todd Thomson.
Some day, proofs as conclusive will be discovered of the reliability of the ancient writers as to their evidence on psychological matters. What Niebuhr, the German materialist did with Livy’s History, from which he eliminated every one of the multitude of facts there given of phenomenal “Supernaturalism,” scientists now seem to have tacitly agreed to do with all the ancient, mediæval and modern authors. What they narrate, that can be used to bolster up the physical part of science, scientists accept and sometimes cooly appropriate without credit; what supports the spiritualistic philosophy, they incontinently reject as mythical and contrary to the order of nature. In such cases “evidence” and the testimony of “eye-witnesses” count for nothing. They adopt the contrary course to Lord Verulam, who, arguing on the properties of amulets and charms, remarks that, “we should not reject all this kind, because it is not known how far those contributing to superstition depend on natural causes.”
There can be no real enfranchisement of human thought, nor expansion of scientific discovery, until the existence of spirit is recognized, and the double evolution accepted as a fact. Until then, false theories will always find favor with those who, having forsaken “the God of their fathers,” vainly strive to find substitutes in nucleated masses of matter. And of all the sad things to be seen in this era of “shams,” none is more deplorable—though its futility is often ludicrous—than the conspiracy of certain scientists to stamp out spirit by their one-sided theory of evolution, and destroy Spiritualism by arraigning its mediums upon the charge of “false pretences.”
H. P. Blavatsky.