The Spiritual Delusion/1.1.4
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4. In its reliance on unsatisfactory testimony and unwarranted inferences.
The mere fact that certain phenomena occur without visible human agency is regarded as irrefutable evidence of immortality! Not to recapitulate what has already been said, we charge spiritism with being unscientific in its reliance on inferences drawn from a certain class of phenomena as related in the columns of the spirital press. These testimonies as published can furnish no ground for conviction, nor basis for examination. The innumerable points which, as we have seen, pass by unnoticed or are regarded as extraneous by the narrator often contain the key to solve the whole mystery.
In the case related in the last section, as narrated by Dr. Wigan, we found especial prominence given to the all-important fact of epilepsy. But if the same case had been narrated by a spiritist for the columns of one of his journals, he would not have felt the same necessity for mentioning it, and might have omitted all reference to it in his testimony.
The state of mind that can greedily devour the ill-digested narrations of events transpiring in what is known in spirital nomenclature as the “night-side of nature,” or the “debatable land,” is the very reverse of that brought to bear upon scientific problems. The spiritist, if a medium, is completely under the control of the dominating idea, and is incapable of prosecuting a critical inquiry. Dr. Carpenter, in his “Human Physiology” (p. 633), truly observes, “ When the mind has once yielded itself up to the dominance of these erroneous ideas, they can seldom be dispelled by any process of reasoning; for it results from the very nature of the previous habits of thought that the reasoning-powers are weakened, and that the volitional control, through want of exercise, can no longer be exerted. If an attempt be made to reason a patient out of a delusion by demonstrating its complete inconsistency with the most obvious facts, the reply will be generally something to this effect: ‘I have stronger evidence than anything which you can urge,—the evidence of my own feelings.’”
Have you seen wonderful things? publish it to the world; collect a mass of testimony written under preconceived conceptions, and by its weight crush out all cavil and doubt. Does a man float in the air? therefore he is immortal! Does a man in Portland, with a broken back, spin around upon the foot-board of the bed on the injured part, like a tee-totum? therefore “thou shalt never die”! Do “spirits” in Montpelier lift cats in the air by the tail with invisible hands? therefore thy relatives and friends are ever with thee! Can a medium in Boston tell me what I knew before, or how much change I have in my pocket, which I did not know? “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Science is hardly prepared to resign to conjecture, and the question does become pertinent, “What phenomena occur?”
Professor Tyndall, with much force, has said, “The present promoters of spiritual phenomena divide themselves into two classes, one of which needs no demonstration, while the other is beyond the reach of proof. The victims like to believe, and they do not like to be undeceived. Science is perfectly powerless in the presence of this frame of mind. It is, moreover, a state perfectly compatible with extreme intellectual subtlety and capacity for devising hypotheses which only require the hardihood engendered by strong conviction or by callous mendacity to render them impregnable. The logical feebleness of science is not sufficiently borne in mind. It keeps down the weed of superstition, not by logic, but by slowly rendering the mental soil unfit for its cultivation. When science appeals to uniform experience, the spiritualist will retort, ‘How do you know that a uniform experience will continue uniform? You tell me that the sun has risen for six thousand years: that is no proof that it will rise to-morrow; within the next twelve hours it may be puffed out by the Almighty.’ Taking this ground, a man may maintain the story of ‘Jack and the Bean-stalk’ in the face of all the science in the world. You urge in vain that science has given us all the knowledge of the universe which we now possess, while spiritualism has added nothing to that knowledge. The drugged soul is beyond the reach of reason. It is in vain that impostors are exposed, and the special demon cast out. He has but slightly to change his shape, return to his house, and find it empty, swept, and garnished.”—Fragments of Science, p. 409.