Which is Vague, Theosophy or Science?
The Path, November, 1890
It is commonly charged against the exponents of Theosophy that they deal in vague generalities only. A lecture is given or paper read by a Theosophist, and the profane hearer laughs, saying, “All this is metaphysical absurdity; these are mere abstractions; let us have something like that which science gives us, something we can grasp.”
A great many persons imagine, knowing but little in reality about science, that it is sure, certain, and fixed in the vital premises which underlie the practical outcome seen in many branches of lifes activity. Why is this so? An inquiry into the question discloses the fact that some, if not all, the basic postulates of science are the purest abstractions, and that many statements from which deductions of fact are drawn are themselves the merest hypotheses. We will also find that the commonest of people unconsciously use in every work-a-day acts the most abstract and indefinite premises without which they could do but little.
Take navigation of the ocean, by which we are able to send the largest ships carrying the richest of cargoes from shore to shore of any sea. These are guided in their course by men who know little or nothing of Theosophy and who would laugh at metaphysics. But in order to safely carry the ship from departure to destination, they have to use the lines of longitude and latitude, which, while seeming very real to them, have no existence whatever, except in theory. These lines must be used, and, if not, the ship will strike a rock or run upon the shore. Where are the parallels of longitude and latitude? They are imagined to be on the earth, but their only visible existence is upon the chart made by man, and their real existence is in the mind of the astronomer and those who understand the science of navigation. The sea captain may think they are on the chart, or he may not think of it at all. Where do they stop? Nowhere; they are said to extend indefinitely into space; yet these abstractions are used for present human commercial needs. Is this any less vague than Theosophy?
In the latter we have to guide the great human ship from shore to shore, and in that immense journey are obliged to refer to abstractions from which to start. Our spiritual parallels of latitude and longitude are abstractions, indeed, but no more so than those laid down upon the seamans chart. The scientific materialist says: “What nonsense to speak of coming out of the Absolute!” We may reply, “What nonsense for the mariner to attempt to guide his ship by that which has no existence whatever, except in fancy; by that which is a pure abstraction!” Again he laughs at us for assuming that there is such a thing as the soul, “for,” he says, “no man has ever seen it, and none ever can; it cannot be demonstrated.” With perfect truth we can reply: “Where is the atom of science; who has ever seen it; where and when has its existence been demonstrated?” The “atom” of science is today as great a mystery as the “soul” of Theosophy. It is a pure hypothesis, undemonstrated and undemonstrable. It can neither be weighed, nor measured, nor found with a microscope: indeed, in the opinion of many Theosophists it is a far greater mystery than the soul, because some say they have seen that which may be soul; which looks like it; and no man has been, at any time, so fortunate or unfortunate as to have seen an atom.
Further, the scientific materialist says, “What do you know about the powers of the soul, which you say is the central sun of the human system?” And we answer that “it is no more indefinite for us than the sun is for the astronomers who attempt to measure its heat and estimate its distance. As to the heat of the sun, not all are agreed that it has any heat whatever, for some learned men think that it is a source of an energy which creates heat when it reaches the earths atmosphere only. Others, celebrated in the records of science, such as Newton, Fizeau, and many other well-known astronomers, disagree as to the quantity of heat thrown out by the sun, on the hypothesis that it has any heat, and that difference is so great as to reach 8,998,600 degrees. Thus as to the central sun of this system, there is the greatest vagueness in science and no agreement as to what may be the truth in this important matter. In Theosophy, however, on the other hand, although there is some vagueness with mere students as to the exact quantity of heat or light thrown out by the soul, those who have devoted more time to its study are able to give closer estimates than any which have been given by scientific men in respect to the sun of the solar system. Yet all these generalities of science are the very things that have led to the present wonderful material development of the nineteenth century.
But let us glance for a moment at the subject of evolution, which engages the thought of materialist and theosophist alike; let us see if theosophy is more vague than its opponents, or more insane, we might say, in ability to lay wild theories before intelligent men. The well-known Haeckel in his Pedigree of Man says, in speaking of Darwins teachings and lauding them: “Darwin puts in the place of a conscious creative force, building and arranging the organic bodies of animals and plants on a designed plan, a series of natural forces working blindly, or we say, without aim, without design. In place of an arbitrary act we have a necessary law of evolution. . . . A mechanical origin of the earliest living form was held as the necessary sequence of Darwins teaching.” Here we have blind, undesigning forces, beginning work without design, haphazard, all being jumbled together, but finally working out into a beautiful design visible in the smallest form we can see. There is not a single proof in present life whether mineral, vegetable, or animal, that such a result from such a beginning could by any possibility eventuate. But these scientific men in those matters are safe in making hypotheses, because the time is far in the dark of history when these blind, undesigning acts were begun. Yet they ought to show some present instances of similar blindness producing harmonious designs. Now is this not a wild, fanciful, and almost insane statement of Haeckel’s? Is it not ten times more absurd than theosophical teachings? We begin truly with Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti and Hosts of Dhyan Chohans, but we allege design in everything, and our Parabrahmam is no more vague than motion or force, pets of science.
So I have found that a slight examination of this question reveals science as more vague than Theosophy is in anything. But some may say results are not indefinite. The same is said by us, the results to be reached by following the doctrines of theosophy, relating, as they do, to our real life, will be as definite, as visible, as important as any that science can point to.