The Dilemma of Theology and Science
An Open Letter to The Rev. Charles Strong, D.D.By J. S.
Melbourne: J. C. Stephens, Printer 146 Elizabeth Street 1903
A reprint from "the Australian herald," August, 1903, edited by Rev. Charles Strong, D.D.
"Psychic Phenomena: A Narrative of Facts," by T. W. Stanford. (Bruce and Davies, Melbourne).—This pamphlet purports to be an account of lectures on ancient history by Professor Robinson, of Southington Connecticut, U.S., born 1797, died 1864. His name, of course, is known to all biblical students. Professor Robinson has selected, according to Mr. Stanford, an uncultured and obscure man in Melbourne as a "medium," through whom he delivers lectures to a select audience of ladies and gentlemen on ancient history. The special course of lectures reported in this pamphlet, occupying about five minutes each for the ordinary reader, though probably taking the medium very much longer to deliver, is upon Mexican and other ancient forms of religion. These lectures are delivered in a dim light, or in the dark, and are varied by recitations and dramatic exhibitions, when the medium is declared to be under the control of the late Mr. Creswick, the actor, and others. The late Professor Denton lectures occasionally on geology, and the late Rev. Julian Woods discourses on religion and theology. The interludes consist, we believe, of sacred songs sung by the company, such as "Sweet By-and-Bye" and "The Holy City." The proceedings are opened with prayer.
But most remarkable of all, ornithological specimens are brought from distant lands—live birds sitting on eggs, also rocks dripping with seaweed from distant seas, and tablets dug from ancient ruins. Wonderful kinetic energy is thus displayed page break by the denizens of the "other world," and time and space are annihilated. Some of these "tablets" have been sent on to Stanford University, but the editor of this pamphlet does not tell us with what result.
We believe Mr. Stanford to be an honourable man, and that he is thoroughly convinced that the "psychic phenomena" he describes are perfectly genuine. He is believed to spend much money on these investigations. But the reader is bound to have his doubts. No attempt is made at scientific proof. No proof whatever is offered of these astounding allegations, and no method of verification is even suggested. The reader is asked to receive these things first on Mr. Stanford's word, for which we have every respect, but which in itself is no proof; then on the supposition that the "medium" is genuine, and is not "cramming," a supposition for which we have only Mr. Stanford's assurances; and, finally, on the supposition that, even if the "medium" is no trickster, these lecturettes must be from the discarnate Robinson. Mr. Myers, in his notable book on "Human Personality," attributes many wonderful psychic phenomena to the uprush of the "subliminal mind," and many more to telepathy, and a certain clairvoyant instinct possessed by some people, although Mr. Myers does not deny the possibility of discarnate spirits impressing the living.
There seems to us to be nothing in these lecturettes that might not be accounted for in this way, even if we have to abandon the supposition that the "medium" has coached himself up for a five minutes' discourse on subjects about which his audience are utterly ignorant, and on which the majority of people can be easily mystified. There is nothing, as far as we can see, in this medium's utterances which an uncultured man, with the aid of books and of other men who do know something, and, it may be, of a somnambulic self-induced trance, might not easily "communicate." And there is no reason to believe that we are in the presence of a learned professor. The "medium" referred to is not unknown in spiritist "circles," and the opinion of some who have witnessed his performances is not favourable to Mr. Stanford's construction of his powers.page 2
and no method of verification is even suggested" by the unknown and purely conjectural writer of that "canonical" book. Now the transport through the air for a distance of many miles, of a substantial human being is surely quite as wonderful as that of the objects enumerated in Mr. Stanford's pamphlet; and yet P believe the narrative of Philip's flight is accepted by some hundred of millions of Christian men and women as perfectly authentic, although unsupported by a single tittle of evidence! Do you, Sir, reject it on that account? If so, I presume you refuse to receive as worthy of credence, the narratives contained within the Four Gospels, of all the "miracles" alleged to have been performed by the Founder of Christianity. For they must be, in your view of the matter, "astounding allegations" which are absolutely destitute and quite incapable of scientific proof. Surely this is a very anomalous position for a minister of the Christian religion to occupy. And just note the remarkable superiority of the position which poor deluded Spiritualists like myself have taken up in comparison with that of both orthodox and rationalistic preachers of the Gospel. I, for one, regard as credible almost every one of the so-called "miracles" recorded in the New Testament, for each of them is being paralleled among Spiritualists at this very hour. Even the Transfiguration on the Mount has its counterpart in those modern materializations which have taken place, and are still taking place under such rigorously scientific conditions as place their reality high above contestation; of which you have an impressive example in the article contributed to, and the experiments described in, the Quarterly Journal of Science for July, 1870, by Sir William Crookes, F.R.S.; in the Miracles and Modern Spiritualism of Alfred Russel Wallace, D.C.L., LL.D., and F.R.S.; and in the Animisme et Spiritisme of the late Alexander Aksakof, in which the whole question is investigated from a purely scientific stand-point, and is accompanied by five reproductions of as many materialized figures of the departed, obtained by Dr. Wagner, Professor of Zoology, in the University of St. Petersburg.
I might likewise refer you to the Au Pays de l'Ombre, by Madame d'Esperance, a lady who, like her compatriot, the Princess Karadji, has studied these phenomena in the interests of science and humanity, and whose book is illustrated by thirteen photographs of spirits who have materialized in her presence.page 3
From this digression, however, I will now return to your article in the Australian Herald, which I will proceed to dissect. Of the covert sneers which run through it all, I will say nothing, except to point out their inconsistency with that divine charity which Paul tells us "thinketh no evil;" the whole of the "Notice" being based upon the assumption that Mr. Stanford is a credulous fool, that Mr. Bailey is a fraud, and that the twenty or thirty ladies and gentlemen who have witnessed these remarkable phenomena, night after night, for weeks together, are mostly silly dupes, with a sprinkling among them of knavish confederates, who are assisting Bailey to carry out a subtle scheme of imposture, which not one of those present has intelligence enough to detect; or, if so, courage enough to expose and denounce. Now, I would not dream of anything so daringly audacious as to compare their intellectual attainments with your own: for there is an air of omniscience and infallibility in the review, before which, I, for one, bow my head in abasement if not in awe. But I venture with the utmost humility, to suggest, from my own observation of those ladies and gentlemen, on various occasions, that they are for the most part, level-headed, unemotional and earnest truth-seekers, gifted with plenty of common sense, and not exactly the sort of persons who would be predisposed to become the ready victims of an accomplished impostor. And Mr. Bailey is not accomplished in any sense of the word. He is not what could be called an educated man; and this is not his fault but his misfortune. He is not a schemer; indeed he is the very reverse; and he has a singularly unretentive memory; yet it would be indispensable that he should possess this, together with histrionic powers of a really remarkable character, in order to qualify him to recite in one unbroken flow—as I have heard him do, for two hours at a stretch—dramatic dialogues, scenes and poems, both tragical and comic, with appropriate gestures, intonation and action, so as to extort from an experienced theatrical critic the declaration that, if he could go through the same performances in his normal condition, he would achieve both fame and fortune on the stage. Not only, however, does he, when in trance, and controlled by discarnate intelligences, exhibit all the rare qualities of a veteran actor; but he delivers lectures on the antiquities of Assyria, Mexico and Palestine; upon moral philosophy, religion and metaphysics; deciphers Hieratic and Hieroglyphic characters upon old Egyptian manuscripts; defines the date of very page 4 ancient coins; interprets cuneiform inscriptions upon tablets from Nineveh and Babylon; chaunts hymns in Hindu; and intones passages in Arabic from the Koran. And all this, you suggest, may be "cramming" or the "uprush of the subliminal mind ! "O, Dr. Strong, is it a little Scottish humour you are treating us to? Produce any man in all Australia who can achieve the results by "cramming" which Mr. Bailey does, as you hint, by this method, and I will place him in the hands of an agent who will exploiter him so profitably that you will be able to pay off the debt on your Church out of what shall be your share of the profits.
But there is an alternative explanation. Let me not forget that. These phenomena may be "the uprush of the subliminal mind! "Fancy a mental eructation, from somewhere beneath the septum lucidum, I suppose, compounded of archæology, histrionics, numismatics, chronology, palæography, the Koran, and the Vedic hymns! How was it generated ? By what surreptitious methods was access obtained to Mr. Bailey's underground mentality, so to speak, and all these stores of miscellaneous knowledge deposited there, in order that he might delude Mr. Stanford, practise on the credulity of his friends, deceive men of science in Sydney, and afford yourself an opportunity of dilating on the "credulous dogmatism" to which some poor ignorant and deluded students of psychic science, or what they may believe to be such, are prone! Shall I be considered presumptuous if I venture to hint that there is such a thing as the superstition of incredulity, under the influence of which, even very learned people deliberately shut their eyes to the most palpable of facts, and close their ears to the most veracious of statements, because they are in dread of being called upon to sacrifice their dearest prejudices and to relinquish their most cherished prepossessions? In your case, I take it, those prepossessions are in favour of believing in the utter impossibility of the impact of the invisible upon the visible world; while your prejudices apparently cause you to feel irritated and annoyed upon finding yourself brought face to face with certain phenomena which go to prove that this impact is actually taking place, and is a thing of daily occurrence, through the intermediation of "sensitives," gifted with a peculiar temperament or faculty, which renders them amenable to control by spirits. Can it be that you have page 5 forgotten how the diversity of forms taken by the gifts imparted to these sensitives is accurately described by the Apostle Paul, perhaps the most remarkable "medium" of his day? To one, he says, "the word of wisdom (inspirational speaking) is given through the spirit (simply pneumatos, be it observed); to another the word of knowledge (receptiveness of it from spirits); but to another faith by the same spirit (conviction of the truth of spiritual communications, as tested by experience); to another the gifts of healings (now being everywhere practised with the greatest success); to another discernings of spirits (clairvoyance); and, to another, kinds of tongues (as in the case of mediums who, under control, speak and write foreign languages, of which they themselves in their normal conditions do not know a single word); and to another interpretation of tongues "(as is taking place through Mr. Bailey). "But," adds Paul, "one and the same energy (energeia, and not Spirit, as rendered in the New Testament), worketh all these things, dividing to each one separately as he wisheth."The Scriptures, upon which, I presume, you base your teachings, as a minister of religion, are full of Spiritualism. Of the Most High it is written "that he maketh his angels (literally messengers) spirits"; the Master himself said to his disciples "the spirits are subject unto you"; and John addressed this injunction to his co-religionists, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits, if they are from God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world"; just as, at the present day, there are plenty of evil or earth-bound spirits haunting the world, seizing upon weak-minded, wrong thinking and badly disposed sensitives, whom they often obsess. In fact our lunatic asylums are full of their victims; and these are quite capable of being cured by judicious treatment but too frequently become raving maniacs when exposed to the maddening influences of those terrible places of torment to deranged minds.
Thus Spiritualism is no new phenomenon in the history of mankind; but its manifestations, both mental and physical, were never so numerous and never so extraordinary as in our own epoch. And this is strictly in accordance with the declarations of the greatest medium, or Mediator, the world has ever seen. For did he not promise that "greater things" should be witnessed than those which he had shown the people of his day, and diet he not aver that he had many things to page 6 say to his disciples but that "they could not bear them" then ? The world was not ripe for what is being revealed to it now: only unfortunately the superstition of incredulity obstructs their acceptance; and I am sorry to say that, as in the times of Christ, the most obstinate opponents of the light that is once more streaming upon the world from the realms of the Unseen, are to be found among the high priests and the elders—among the very men who should be the first to welcome that which alone contains within itself "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen."
Now, surely, there can be no more convincing testimony to the reality of the after life, which all Christians hope for, than the communications that are everywhere being opened up between those who have actually passed into that life, and those who are still abiding in the present one; no more conclusive "evidence of things unseen" than that which is furnished by the phenomena, upon the spiritual origin of which, you attempt to throw so much discredit. For, if weighty objects can be transported almost instantaneously from the heart of Asia and Africa, to a room in Melbourne, without human agency, and if living creatures like tropical birds and sea-fish can be passed through the walls or the ceiling of a house, then some unseen intelligence or intelligences must be operating to bring about such results; and if those intelligences, taking possession of a human being who is in a state of trance, and controlling his brain and organs of speech, solemnly assure us that they are spirits who have once lived upon the earth; and if there is no other reasonable or scientific method of accounting for the phenomena, then, I submit, we are justified in accepting their statements as trustworthy.
But, you insinuate, the tablets may have been moulded or prepared in Melbourne. Let us analyse this hypothesis. Before me lie four sheets of photographs, containing the representations of thirty-two tablets and ten cylinders, each of them differing in some degree from all the others. Twenty-eight of them contain figures in bas-relief: and the others are entirely covered with cuneiform inscriptions, numbering as many as one hundred characters, in one instance. They are professedly brought from the mounds of Babylonia, and are covered, when they first arrive, with closely agglutinated particles of sand, which have to be carefully and patiently deterged, before the figures are visible or page 7 the ancient lettering is legible. Now just consider what the fabrication of moulds in which to cast these tablets would imply. They would require to be 42 in number, and, as all the inscriptions are incised, each character would have to be raised or embossed: and each figure—generally full of detail—would have to be sunk in the mould as in the die of a medal. Consider the cost and labour of these processes! Consider likewise the intimate knowledge of Assyrian history and antiquities which Mr. Bailey would be obliged to have acquired—and he knows nothing about either—and next consider the perfect familiarity with the religion of the Aztecs of old Mexico, which he must possess, in order to qualify him to interpret the prayers formerly offered up in their temples! Surely the supposition that the tablets have been modelled in Melbourne, and that Mr. Bailey is an expert in Assyriology and in the archæology of Mexico, is too preposterous for serious entertainment, whether by your super-liminal or your subliminal mind, unless the latter acts independently of the former.
But, you ask in one place for scientific proof, and assert that no attempt has been made to sustain "these astounding allegations" by such proof or to "suggest any method of verification." Unfortunately for this hasty and groundless assertion, the phenomena referred to have been subjected to a rigorously scientific examination in Sydney, by a professional gentleman whose scientific attainments and experience are unquestionable, and to whom Mr. Bailey cheerfully submitted himself for examination, having been sent for from Melbourne at the expense of a few gentlemen interested in psychic inquiries. Before each sitting he was searched by two or three, mostly sceptical, individuals in the manner thus described:—"The coat pockets were first overhauled, the lining was felt all over, then the coat was folded, placed on a chair beside me, and left there during the sitting. The control meanwhile separated the arms, so that the arm-pits could be searched by sight and touch; the hands, including the spaces between the fingers, being also examined by at least two pairs of eyes and hands. Then, while the arms were still extended outwards, the clothes were searched, the pockets turned out, the linings examined, the non-possibility of secret pockets or receptacles noted, and every inch of the body from head to foot felt, pressed hard, and stroked down deliberately and systematically, somewhat after the manner of page 8 massage. As one of the more sceptical searchers remarked, when asked if he was satisfied: 'Satisfied! Why, not a threepenny bit could have escaped.'" After this process, the sensitive was enveloped in a bag, secured beyond the possibility of opening without detection.
Under these circumstances, the following objects were brought into the room on various occasions:—Ten coins of the reigns of the Ptolemys, 3 ancient Roman coins, 1 of Antiochus, 1 Egyptian scarabaeus, 20 precious stones, 3 live Indian jungle sparrows, 1 bird's nest, eight tablets, 1 newspaper in Arabic, 1 shovel-nosed shark a foot long, some dripping sea-weed, a half-baked chupatty cake, and a terracotta cylinder, weighing upwards of two pounds.
|1.||The hypothesis of fraud.|
|2.||The hypothesis of occult physical power of the double and multiple personality of the Sensitive, plus, in the mental phases, hypnotic suggestion, telepathy, etc., these latter agents acting on his "subliminal mind."|
|3.||The hypothesis of occult physical power in the entranced Sensitive, plus the abstraction of ideas by his "subliminal mind" from thought repositories in space.|
|4.||The hypothesis of occult phenomena produced from a distance by adepts in the flesh, these adepts using the hypnotised Sensitive as their instrument.|
|5.||The hypothesis of occult action through the instrumentality of elementals and nature-spirits.|
|6.||The hypothesis of ex-carnate spiritual entities controlling the Sensitive and manifesting, intellectually and physically, by means of his psychic powers, plus any psychic aid, derived from the sitters.|
Now the result of these investigations, systematically pursued by scientific methods, with a steadfast determination on the part of two scientists, father and son, to probe the phenomena to the very bottom, and to exhaust all possible means of accounting for them before arriving at a final and definite conclusion was this, that they admitted of but one explanation only; namely that of the sixth and last hypothesis.page 9
"As regards the nature of the articles brought occultly into the seance room, I have been satisfied, on expert evidence, that the jewels, coins, and scaræbeus are unmistakeably genuine. I have not yet been able to get expert opinion on the tablets, cylinder, and alleged cuneiform writings and hieroglyphic figurings; nor have I yet had opportunity to test the statements made in regard to an alleged gold mine, but I hope eventually to satisfy myself on all these points. In regard to the cuneiform lettering, I may mention, however, that two educated Syrian gentlemen to whom I showed the cylinder and tablets, and to whom I gave no hint whatever of their nature, at once pronounced the writing to be in the old Syro-Chaldaic characters. On this point they expressed themselves as positively certain."
Will this scientific evidence satisfy you, Dr. Strong ? And need I remind you of the great antiquity and rarity of lapidary inscriptions in the Syro-Chaldaic character ? Could you point out any possible means of procuring a tablet of this kind in Melbourne or Sydney, even by the most lavish outlay of money for the purpose ?
"The ancient coins have undoubtedly upon them the impress of age. Their surfaces show a condition that could not possibly be the result of artificial friction or corrosion with acid, the latter giving an unmistakeable look not easily confounded with that which age alone can impart. In the case of those not verdigrised, there is that dull, dark, distinctive colouring of age; an appearance which no known process can simulate. I notice the following points with regard to the coins: (I) No two of the thirteen produced are alike in detail (making due allowance for the effacing effects of attrition and corrosion, whether natural or artificial), though certain of them possess general characteristics in common, as, for instance, the double or single eagle, page 10 the head of Zeus, etc. Notwithstanding partial effacement, it is easily seen that the fashioning of the eagles and of the Zeus profile differs in detail in those coins described as of different reigns (as nearly all have been, there being only two sets of duplicates). Such details, for instance, as certain strands of hair on the Zeus profile, are quite dissimilar in direction and method of waving. The general proportions and the measurements between certain points also differ. If we suppose the coins to be mere replicas, or else imitations, then, in order to produce them, thirteen separate moulds should have been employed. It is far more likely that spurious coins would be multiplied from one die, or two at the utmost, whether such coins be on the market, or whether Mr. Bailey himself is such an adept at producing moulds, mixing and liquifying in his special furnace the necessary alloy, whether of bronze or "electron," and successfully casting such diverse and excellent imitations, that, after further manipulation by him, with the object of giving them the appearance of great age, he actually succeeds in deceiving experts who unhesitatingly pronounce upon their genuineness. If, on the other hand, Mr. Bailey, not being able to manufacture these coins, is in touch with a dealer in them, one would naturally wonder that he would subject himself to such evident risk of detection as the constant purchase of these articles would entail. Then, if neither self-manufactured nor purchased, and if museums or coin fanciers cannot be robbed at will, where does he get them?"
To pass from the objects translated to the lecturettes. You say, there seems to you to be "nothing in this medium's utterances which an uncultured man, with the aid of books and of other men who do know something 'might not coach himself up for a five minutes discourse upon' to an audience utterly ignorant of the subject," etc. Upon this latter point I will only say that the supercilious sneer involves a covert insult to some at least of those present at the sittings. As to the medium's utterances, I will quote the words of his Sydney examiner-in-chief:—
"In the intellectual phases, fraud on the part of the Sensitive can only be judged by a comparison between his normal intellectual capabilities and the mental capacity displayed by the alleged controlling intelligence. A mis-statement, or even a deliberate deception on page 11 the part of the control would be no evidence of deception on the part of the hypnotised sensitive. That Mr. Bailey during "control" is in the lucid stage of hypnotism, and absolutely unconscious, I have no doubt, judging by not alone well marked physical signs of his removal from the normal condition, but also by the complete and striking transformation in his mentality. Reference to the pronouncements, already given, of Mr. R. and my son, supplemented by my own remarks, on specially intellectual treats which we enjoyed at sittings with Mr. Bailey under control, in daylight, in my house, will show the opinion we formed of the mental lucidity then shown by the controlling intelligence, and should at once set at rest the question of distinct personality. The evidences of educational culture shown by the control on these occasions were, to say the least, startling, and could not have been the result of any mere smattering of knowledge derived, for instance, from the study of an encyclopedia, but were indicative of that precise, particularised knowledge derived, as my son remarks, 'from a long course of specialised study." In fact, the faultless language and perfect method of expression of the controls at these special sittings, transcended Mr. Bailey in his normal capacity in as great a degree as the soaring eagle would eclipse in flight the diminutive wren."
Let me add to this—speaking from my own experience—that when Dr. Robinson and others have been speaking, I have interjected questions or comments and that these have been instantaneously replied to, even when, as has sometimes happened, the replies I received referred to correlative or unrelated subjects, and proved that the mind of the speaker was literally overflowing with information on the subject, whether it was the history or religion of the ancient Assyrians, the sun-worship of the early Mexicans, the cosmogony of the Hindus, or the manners and customs of the primitive Egyptians. To assume that Mr. Bailey could have stored his memory with all this information upon the off-chance of its being asked for by some inquisitive sitter, or that he knows where to look for it when it is wanted, is to credit him with scholarly habits, and a gift for research which I am sure he would be the first to ridicule and repudiate.
What is most remarkable in your own comments upon Mr. Stanford's "Narrative of Facts," is the disposition to prejudge, to page 12 depreciate, discredit and disbelieve, every statement made with respect to the occurrence of psychic phenomena, such as are herein described as having been witnessed by a number of sane, intelligent and reputable persons. You will read a book of travel through a previously unexplored country, and although the narrative may contain much that is startling and even astounding, you do not, I imagine, set the writer down as a liar or ati impostor. Yet directly men and women begin to explore the spiritual world with the assistance of an exceptionally gifted "psychic," and report what they have discovered, they are sneered at as ignorant dupes, and as the possible confederates of a very remarkable fraud: and the readers of the pamphlet are admonished that the facts it relates are destitute of scientific proof. They have been witnessed, described and attested by scores of educated and well informed men and women, but these are given to understand that their testimony is utterly valueless, because they may have been imposed upon, times out of number, by an accomplished "trickster," and because they are "utterly ignorant" of the subjects upon which the aforesaid "trickster" is in the habit of addressing them.
It may be that all wisdom is comprehended within the profound intellect of the Rev. Dr. Strong; but the sea of Truth is quite fathomless; and therefore it is just possible that the students of psychic science, as they wander along its shores, may succeed in picking up a few shells worthy of preservation in the Museum of Psychology.
With the greatest humility,
I subscribe myself,
Your very obedient servant,