A Field Of Knowledge Strangely Abandoned -- By: George Mooar

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 039:153 (Jan 1882)
Article: A Field Of Knowledge Strangely Abandoned
Author: George Mooar


A Field Of Knowledge Strangely Abandoned

Rev. George Mooar

What men do not know often reveals some deeper secret of their mind and character. For instance, in cases brought before courts it is a matter of remark how much some witnesses do not remember. In the pithy story related in the Gospel of John concerning a blind man, said to have been cured by Jesus, the Pharisees attempted to break the force of the man’s own testimony to his cure. Disconcerted in this endeavor, they covered their failure by saying, “As for this fellow, we know not whence he is.” The response of the man was penetrating: “Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.”

The surprise, which was not altogether confidence or admiration, exhibited in this plain man’s observation is repeated in the experience of many who come in contact with the agnosticism of our time. It is a marvellous thing to survey the fields which their minds abandon. A brief allusion to the word just used will soon bring the abandoned field to view. Only the most recent dictionaries of our language contain the word “agnostic.” Less than twenty years ago even the best of them had not treasured it. The most prominent and extensive cylopaedias up to the present date have failed to include it; yet our current literature is full of references to it. So rapidly yet silently has this term taken its place as a sign of our times. Nescience, which is its synonyme, had been recognized a little sooner by the lexicographers, yet not in the present philosophical sense until after the publication of The Limits of Religious Thought, in 1858. These facts, while they are far from indicating that agnosticism is a novel product, still bear witness that it is a phase

of thinking which has found in our generation a congenial soil and climate.

This term may be employed to designate the posture of thinkers who in some respects — in very important respects, indeed — are very far asunder. Thus the agnosticism of Kant constituted an epoch in the history of philosophical thought. But the epoch which he constituted is in utter contrast with that of Comte; yet the same name may be given to the latter. Herbert Spencer may be regarded as the typical agnostic of the hour. How different, however, from him was Sir William Hamilton. On Hamilton’s tombstone it is written, “His aim was by a pure philosophy to teach that we see through a glass darkly: now we know in part; his hope was that in the life to come he should see face to face, and know even as he is known.” Nevertheless Hamilton built up the special theory of nescience. One may easily quote from Horace Bushnell passages which Herbert Spencer might put ...

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