The Ghost Theory Of The Origin Of Religion -- By: S. H. Kellogg

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 044:174 (Apr 1887)
Article: The Ghost Theory Of The Origin Of Religion
Author: S. H. Kellogg


The Ghost Theory Of The Origin Of Religion

Rev. S. H. Kellogg

By the above title may be justly described that theory of the origin of religion which Mr. Herbert Spencer has now for some time been offering to the world to account for the evolution of religion. It is set forth with great fulness in his “Principles of Sociology.” Vol. I, part 1, and in outline is as follows:

After some preliminary matter, Mr. Spencer begins his argument with a reference to the conception of things as visible and invisible. The primitive man observed, for instance, that clouds and stars appear and disappear, and that the same is true of many other things. He sees, moreover, that sometimes that which is invisible may have great power, as when the wind uproots great trees. Hence among his earliest notions must have been this of existence as visible and invisible, and therewith the idea that to the invisible may belong great power. And as many things, e. g., the stars, exist a part of the time as visible, and a part of the time as invisible, he concludes that everything may thus have a dual form of existence.

Again, the primitive man finds, let us say, a fossil. From

its appearance he would naturally infer, with his limited experience, that one and the same substance may be transmuted into another having entirely different properties. And, still further, as he observes that eggs change into chickens, and trees come out of seeds, he concludes that form as well as substance may undergo a total transmutation. This may well have been confirmed to his mind by the observation that certain insects and reptiles have the power of changing more or less their color and form, so as to seem exactly like that in the midst of which they live. And, whereas he has as yet no generalized knowledge, there is nothing to hinder his believing that such transformations are not merely apparent but real. When this belief in the possibility of transformation is once established, it would easily extend itself to other classes of objects than those named. In a word, since the primitive man observed that some things really or apparently become other things, therefore he concludes that anything may become anything. For—to use Mr. Spencer’s illustration—”the tadpole, with a tail and no limbs, differs from a young frog, with four limbs and no tail, more than a man differs from a hyena; for both of these have four limbs and both laugh.”1 And thus, at this stage of the evolution, the primitive man had reached the conclusion that each object which he sees is not only what it seems, but, potentially, anything else.

Next in order, we are told,...

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