This is just a neat essay from the 1890's which is illustrative of some flowery language of the day, remarkably resonant with modern sentimentation; and so, a useful record from a previous era....


Deistical Platitude Vamping and "Providence."

J. St. J. Higgins, July 17, 1898.

To the Editor of "The Freethinker";

Sir, —Although preternatural phantasm hatchers are rampant just now, I fear the poverty of the type-case shall bid fair to deprive their reputations of immortality; but as there may be some susceptible individuals occupying a transitional position between Atheism and Theism, and who may therefore incline to give credence to such philosophism, I trust you will extend your courtesy to admit this criticism of your correspondent, Mr. C. Edgley's communication, to your columns.

Dealing generally with the whole communication, I incline to think that the author may be felicitated (or reprehended) on the facility with which he has there reduced fiction-spinning to a definite system. He has dealt first with "Jehovah," shorn him of his " attributes," exhibited him per se, and industriously set to work and put them on again. Dealing with Mr. Edgley's comments successively in the order of their occurrence, we have first to face the " attributes-of-God" phantasm. Here your correspondent carefully negates some flimsily-suppositional "attributes" by telling us that "He had neither form nor sex," which is an unthoughtful and loose statement, although it can be conceived with Mr. Edgley that even a fetish cannot very well have sex if it have no form. Anyhow, if Mr. Edgley is unable to show that some varieties—-"allotropic modifications," if he likes—of his Deity have no form and yet have sex—a demonstration which must require some smart juggling with theological fallacies-—it is evident he has needlessly complicated a needlessly intricate conception, by his use of the word "sex." Before we leave the complications—if we can get clear of them at all—I must ask your correspondent, since he has made recurrently a gratuitous use of these formulae, why he uses the terms "he," "himself," and "Jehovah" with the possessive case terminal attached, in the face of his artlessly-frank dictum, pronounced in the same breath, that "He is like magnetism—a power felt, but not seen."

Of course Atheists in general will laughingly acquiesce in the statement that tuck a deity, "I should say, knows neither love nor hatred." But here we have " Jehovah" shorn of all possible attributes, except one, common to energy in every form, and which is obvious—-to physicists, at any rate—-and raised to the status of an abstract mechanical power, made congruent with magnetic force, and all sequential considerations disregarded with most summary indifference. But, unfortunately, and I say it with all regret, Mr. Edgley has not seen fit to stop here, but goes on in palpable disobedience to the injunction of the proverb, "Ne tutor supra crepidam," and accordingly continues: "He thinks and controls." Epitomising, we arrive, now, at the refreshingly-naive proposition: "Jehovah ...... has neither form nor sex, but is like magnetism ...... He thinks and controls" (italics mine). Well, sir, I must confess this is too deep for me. I, for instance, always thought that "Mind," a function of which is thinking, invariably goes "hand-in-hand" with "Matter"—as an attribute, one might say, of certain "organised" forms of matter in the massive form—an essential conception in psychological accordance with the Science of Mind.

Reasoning necessarily from analogy, then, psychology, and consequently scientific Agnosticism, I incline to think must say: "Thinking without 'form' is conceptibly impossible." Consequently, our summarised quotation from Mr. Edgley is absurd. Certainly the conception embodied in it is unrepresented and unnecessary, and that seals its fate as a philosophical hypothesis, or even speculation. The whole extent of these communications of Mr. Edgley is so palpably choke full of fallacies and preposterous premises— psychologically so, philosophically so, and (in the light of Mr. Edgley's last paragraph, for instance) scientifically so, that it is almost impossible, in decent space, to deal adequately with his comments. If the fable of an ancient fictionist, relative to the surreptitious abstraction by "the Lord God" of a rib from an individual in a very deep sleep, ran instead : "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took some of his brains," and closed up a Torcellian vacuum " instead thereof," one might account for the ever-present, ever-varying mass of theological phantasmagoria, which suggests a slight modification of the lines of W. S. Gilbert:—-

A thing of shreds and patches,
Of legends, tales, and snatches;

and for the cognate deistical or pan-deistical emanations of such quasi-theologians as (to take a contemporaneous example) your correspondent. As it is, there is nothing for it but to wade warily forward. "I am convinced," says your correspondent, "that matter has always existed." So was Aristotle; now-a-days the inference is axiomatic (except among some ignorant superstitionists ; but these, of course, are negligible). But he proceeds, still in disobedience to our Latin injunction, "and probably the planets also." The stars, presumably, are too insignificant when compared with the great planets, and visually greater moon, to merit consideration (!). "Jehovah did not create matter, but he has been existent with it for all time." The off-hand assertiveness of this dictum is enough to suggest to a "simpleminded orthodox" theologian a possibility of the previous occurrence of an audience between "Jehovah" and Mr. Edgley on this question. It will appear a bold statement to most, and, to the Atheist, such ignorance, such despairably absolute ignorance of all scientific method, of all mode of logical inference, of all criteria of representative hypothesis, and consequently of all philosophical conception, must appear commensurable only to the efficiency of the trammels of philosophism and theological superstition. Your readers will probably be aware that storms do not purify " probably also the sea." These have, of course, rather the converse effect (if any) on the sea. During wind-storms, for instance (irrespective of direction), suspended solid matter will doubtless be mechanically brought in contact with, and be taken up by, the sea water ; whereas during heavy rains the effect will be more practical. In this case we shall have any soluble salts, etc., including, of course, all alkalis, and acids wherever exposed to contact—in the atmosphere or on land—dissolved during the rain storm, and ultimately carried to the sea by rivers and streams as (highly diluted) saline and acid solutions. This is, of course how the sea became salt; but any purifying effect has ceased thousands of years ago at least. As to the spontaneous heating up of "certain rocks," etc., students, in order to appreciate the "amateurishness" of the idea, must be acquainted with the data and constants, etc., supporting the theories out of which Mr- Edgley thinks he has knocked the bottoms. In reference to another remark of his, I must say scientists write tolerably clearly of their theories, etc., most of which they can by now symbolise by mathematical formula, but cannot be expected, when describing advanced hypotheses to "dance to the comprehensions" of the uninitiated and ignorant. With reference to the bad effects of droughts, storms, and diseases being counteracted by good effects-—as stated by Mr. Edgley-— the fact remains that bad effects are sensibly produced, and, if we admit existence of the controlling, thinking, omnipresent deity of your correspondent, it is right to regard such responsible for resorting to such drastic measures to counteract or control the results of his own handiwork, instead of arranging so that this tinkering with consequences would not be necessary.

Skipping most of Mr. Edgley's communications as irrelevant and speculative, and coming down to the last paragraph of his last letter, we come across an astounding statement no less, in fact, than that he has, with very simple apparatus evidently, arrived at results in discordance with the second law of motion! Bat the description is elliptical, and, alas, the results are based on imperfect experiment. If he procures bar magnets of exactly the same strength, and disposes them at exactly equal distances from the iron ball, which must turn about its axis with the minimum of friction, he will find on revolving the ball that it will practically obey the second law of motion, as given in any text-book on physics, if the magnetic bars be placed in opposite directions, all with their north-seeking, or all with their south-seeking poles towards the ball. But even if these precautions be not observed, the magnet forces which condition the behavior of the metal sphere must nob be confounded with gravitational force : they are easily interpreted by the theory of electro-polar molecules, which also applies to magnetic induction. But all this last is, of course, beside the question, so far as Mr. Edgley is involved.

J. St. J. Higgins.


source (July 17, 1898, p. 460-461)

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