Herbert Spencer’s Religion -- By: John W. Mears

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 031:122 (Apr 1874)
Article: Herbert Spencer’s Religion
Author: John W. Mears

Herbert Spencer’s Religion1

John W. Mears

It is a long time since purely English philosophy has produced so able, so comprehensive, and so daring a thinker as Herbert Spencer. Unlike Mr. Mill, he constructs, rather than criticises. We are not troubled to gather his own opinions from his writings. He has planned out an entire scheme of philosophy, and has sent forth a prospectus of what he proposes to do. Of this great work, embracing ten volumes, and treating of philosophy in its first principles, of biology, psychology, sociology, and morality, and fit to command the best energies of a master mind for a long lifetime, he has issued four complete volumes and parts of others, covering, perhaps, more than half of the whole. In these, we have some of the clearest and most forcible statements of opinion upon great and abstract topics to be found in the English language.

If the truth must have opponents, it is just such opponents we prefer to see and to meet — frank, out-spoken, unreserved. For we are constrained to place Herbert Spencer among the enemies of that which we consider truth. Theoretically, indeed, not an atheist; his philosophy denies the possibility of all practical relations between God and man, if, indeed, it be not fairly chargeable with denying the existence of any thing that could properly be called God. But it is to be said in his favor, that he does not overlook or disparage the seriousness of the questions involved between philosophy and religion. He does not ignore or disdain them like Comte, or leave you in doubt, as does Mr. Mill. He plunges at once, in the very opening of his first principles into these questions,

giving the first chapter of all to “Religion and Science,” thus recognizing the primary importance in philosophy of those issues which to us also are radical and vital.

Herbert Spencer’s system connects itself with, and diverges from, that of Sir William Hamilton, though the connection can scarcely be considered as characteristic, the divergences being radical both as to scope and method. Thus as to method, not to speak of Hamilton’s life-long practice of elaborating topics and pushing discussions without considering well their mutual bearings, as if tunnelling a mountain from both sides without calculating whether the two passage-ways would meet — while every step of Spencer’s work appears to be carefully calculated with reference to all the rest, we are struck with the fact that abstruse, ontological discussions, occupy the forefront of Spencer’s work. It is true that Sir William Hamilton’s first published discussion, “The Philosophy of the Unconditioned,” was in the same...

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