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vol. 3, p. 4
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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< Materialism's Last Assault (continued from page 3-2) >

theory of materialism. Do you not see that in granting to matter a spiritual property, an infusion from a “higher life,” a deific impulse, you abandon your dream of the “promise and potency” of mere matter, and nullify your threat of “wresting from theology the entire domain of cosmological theory?”

You cannot escape by saying that the theological conception belongs to the region of the emotions, while touts is the conclusion of pure science; for you virtually admit with Locke, that matter may be divinely gifted with the power of producing mind and other marvels. You do not “shut out” that idea, only it must not be “dogmatically imposed.” No more must the idea of the “promise and potency” of mere matter, be dogmatically imposed! To your hypothesis, theology replies with another which neutralizes it, and exposes the impotence of the threat you address to her.

“Promise and potency!” Have you never had any misgiving as to your right to use these words in the way you do? Are they not wholly metaphorical in their application to the processes of pure, unaided matter, or inorganic nature? Have they any strictly scientific validity or fitness? Shall we allow you to express unintelligent operations in terms of mind, when your purpose is to prove that no mind is needed in the case?


You would reduce matter to a spiritual activity, having thinking and matter, the “potency” of appearing and perceiving, for its two-fold functions; and then you call upon us to regard it still as matter, having within itself the “promise and the potency of all terrestrial life!” Reason cannot accept such postulates. Even Hartley, whose vibratory hypothesis was welcomed by materialists, admits that it is the same thing, whether we suppose that matter has properties and powers unlike those which appear in it, and superior to them, or whether we suppose an immaterial substance. You say:

I have spoken above as if the assumption o a soul would save Mr. Martineau from the inconsistency of crediting pure matter with the astonishing building power displayed in crystals and trees. This, however, would not be the necessary result, for it would remain to be proved that the soul assumed is not itself matter.

And you then quote Tertullian to show that he “was quite a physicist in the definiteness of his conceptions regarding the soul,” since he believed in its corporeal nature; and you wonder “what would have happened to this great Christian father amid the roaring lions of Belfast.”

But you omit to inform your readers that Tertullian was after all, a Spiritualist, in the strictly modern sense, since the corporeal soul in which he believed was simply the equivalent of the spiritual body of the teachings according to Spiritualism; for he drew his notions of the soul not only from his interpretations of the Bible, but from the communications of a female medium, who, he says, described a soul as corporeally exhibited to her view, and as being “tender and lucid, and of aerial color, and every way of human form.”

Tertullian was largely influenced by his knowledge of phenomena quite similar to those of modern Spiritualism: but he left the question an open one how far all organisms are indebted for life, intelligence, and formative power, to a divine influx, a “higher life.” The fact of such an influx is what no human science can prove or disprove. In the nature of things the eternal cause must be above all proof. To prove God would be to look down upon God, to be superior to God.

After having admitted that “the life immanent everywhere” may be “a subordinate part and function of a higher life,’’ you, with a strange neglect of your admission, call upon Mr. Martineau to tell you at what moment the soul could have come in, if, in the production of the snow-crystal for example, “an imponderable formative soul unites itself with the substance after its escape from the liquid.” And you playfully ask, “Did it enter at once or by degrees? Is it distributed through the entire mass of the crystal? Has it legs or arms? What becomes of it when the crystal is dissolved? Why should a particular temperature be needed before it can exercise its vocation? &c.


Did it never occur to you that the “higher life,” which you concede as an idea not to be excluded, may account for the soul, not only in the formative power of the snow crystal, but in all organisms, vegetable and animal? The force which every being and everything is possessed of lies in its idea; and this idea—a vitalizing, spiritual principle—is from God, or, if you please, “the higher life.” What would be thought of the reasoner who, for proof of the heat ix a body, should ask, “Has it legs or arms? What becomes of it? Did it enter at once, or by degrees?”

Universal science is bringing us nearer every day to this conception of a single elementary substance or force, from which, by differentiation, transformation, and the infinite adjustment of proportions, all the varieties, properties, and exquisite forms of matter and marvels of mind are produced: and in this intelligent force, informing principle, or “higher life,” pervading all things and culminating in the human soul, we have a glimpse of the immediate agency of Deity.

You ask, “If there be anything betides matter in the egg, or in the infant subsequently slumbering in the womb, what is it?” And you conclude, “Matter I define that mysterious thing by which all this is accomplished. How it came to have this power it a question on which I never ventured an opinion.”

But, sir, it is to venture a very decided opinion to admit, as not in conflict with your hypothesis, the notion that the origin of the power may be in a “higher life,” of which the lower life, revealed in matter, may be a “function.” And when you employ the words “promise and potency” to characterize the evolution issuing is manifestations of beauty, prescience, adaptation, mind, and consciousness, you invest matter with that higher life,” the conception of which you seem at times, with a strange contradiction, to relegate to the region of the emotions. Your “mysterious something” becomes a two faced unity, like “the convex and concave of the same curve,” partaking of properties which the theologians call spiritual, and which you prefer to call “promise and potency.”


But what an aimless logomachy it is, then, that you are engaged in! After all the qualifications and elaborations of your argument—and I admire the eloquence and imaginative grace which you put forth in your style—you are brought to an admission which dematerializes your vaunted matter, introduces a mysterious agency which, for all that you can show to the contrary, may be spiritual, and points, in spite of your skeptical “What is it?” to “something besides matter in the egg.”

You express, in conclusion, a hope that the minds of the I future may be “purer and mightier than ours, partly because of their deeper knowledge of matter, and their more faithful conformity to its laws.”

And yet here are phenomena, attested to by thousands of competent witnesses, for which it is claimed that they prove the instant apparent production and dissipation of matter by what is believed to be a superior intelligent force or will—phenomena going on under your very nose, and which have been tested by Wallace, Crookes, Varley, Wagner, Butlerof, Aksakof, Harrison, Sexton, Buchanan, Gunning, Denton and hundreds of other respectable physicists; and yet, you, without giving to the subject the study that you would have to give to a fly’s wing in order to test what science asserts of it, escape from the whole amazing body of facts, and the hypothesis that would account for them, with the brave, ingenuous cry of —.

But I will spare you the repetition of the ribald scoff. If it came to you from those higher moods, those “Alpine summits,” “those moments of clearness and vigor,” to which you claim to be sometimes lifted, what form of speech would you have found unclean enough for the lower level of your ordinary discourse?


Epes Sargent

No. 68 Moreland street, Boston, Mass., Dec. 11th, 1875

Juggernaut Human Sacrifices Untrue

To the Editor of the Banner of Light:

In the Banner of Feb. 17th is an article beginning: “Moncure D. Conway sticks to it that the Juggernaut suicides are the fiction of missionary imagination.” Some twenty years ago I know Rev. William Adam, born in Scotland, a graduate of Edinburgh University, a Baptist missionary in Hindostan, then editor of the Calcutta Gazette, the able and influential organ of the English residents in India, and afterward Professor of Sanscrit and Oriental Literature in Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Не was an accomplished linguist, could speak the Cingalese or common language of the Hindoos with ease, and twenty years residence in India had made him familiar, of course, with the habits, customs and religion of the people.

He assisted Rahmohun Roy in translating the Moral Precepts of Jesus for the use of the natives, and the comments and arguments of that eminent Brahmin philosopher and reformer made him a liberal Unitarian, and closed his Baptist missionary work.

Mr. Adam told me he had attended the great festivals of Juggernaut, and that human sacrifices, or bloody rites of any kind, were unknown, for the good reason that the god was one whose attributes were love and the preservation of life, and the only offerings to him were fruits and flowers. If pilgrims were ever crushed and trampled to death in the vast crowd, it was by accident, and no part of the ceremonies or worship.

Thus Mr. Conway is confirmed by an eminent authority, and is as right and clear on this matter as he is wrong and muddy on Spiritualism.

Yours truly,
G. B. Stebbins.

Sturgis, Mich., Feb. 22d. 1877.

Editor's notes

  1. Juggernaut Human Sacrifices Untrue by Stebbins, G. B., Banner of Light, The, v. 40, No. 24, March 10, 1877, p. 3