The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

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By Louis Figuier (First article)

It happens to the word marvelous the same that happens to the word soul; there is an elastic meaning in both, given to multiple interpretations. That is why we consider it useful to establish some general principles in the preceding article, before entering into considerations of the story given by Mr. Figuier.

When that work was published the adversaries of Spiritism applauded, saying that we would undoubtedly have a strong resistance ahead of us. In their charitable thoughts they saw us inexorably dead. The sad effects of a passionate and thoughtless blindness, if they had taken the burden of analyzing what they want to destroy they would have seen that Spiritism will one day be, and earlier than they might think, the safeguard of society and perhaps they themselves may owe Spiritism their salvation, we don’t say in the next world, with which they care little about, but in this very world! We don’t say these words lightheartedly. It is not time yet to develop them. There are many people, however, that already understand us.

Coming back to Mr. Figuier, we ourselves thought to have found a truly serious adversary in him, with peremptory arguments that would deserve a serious refutation. His work covers four volumes. The two first ones contain an explanation of principles in a preface and an introduction, then a list of very well known facts that will nonetheless be read with interest, given the scholarly research carried out by the author. We believe it to be the most complete report ever given to the subject. The first volume is almost entirely dedicated to the story of Urbain Grandier and the religious of Loudun. After that comes the convulsionary of Saint-Médard, the story of the protestant prophets, the magic wand and the animal magnetism. The fourth and just published book deals particularly with the turning tables and the rapping spirits. We shall come back to this latest volume later, limiting ourselves for now to the summary of the analysis of the whole thing.

The critical part of the stories contained in the two initial volumes consists in the demonstration, by authentic witnesses, that intrigue, human passions and charlatanism had a significant role in the subject, and that certain facts have a clear sign of deception, but that is what nobody objects. Nobody has ever guaranteed the integrity of all these facts, less than any other, and the spiritists must be grateful to Mr. Figuier for having collected proof that will avoid many compilations. They have interest that the fraud is unveiled and all those who find these frauds in the phenomena falsely qualified, as spiritist will be doing them a favor. Well, nobody better than the enemies to do such a service. As seen, they have their utility.

The only problem is that the desire for criticism sometimes drags people far away, and in the heat of discovering evil they frequently see it where it is not, for not having examined the subject with the necessary care and impartiality, which is even rarer. The true critic must stay away from preconceived ideas, undressed from any prejudice, or otherwise the subject will be analyzed from a personal point of view, which is not always fair. Let us take an example: let us suppose that the political history of contemporary events is written with great impartiality, that is, entirely true, and let us suppose that this story is told by two critics of contrary opinion. Considering that all facts are absolutely true, this will forcibly hurt the opinion of one of them. Thus, two contradictory judgments: one that will elevate the work to the skies; the other that will declare it to be good enough for the fire. However, the work contains nothing different from the truth. If that is the case with patent facts like in history, it is also and with even stronger motive when dealing with philosophical doctrines. Well, Spiritism is a philosophical doctrine and those who only see it in the turning tables or who assess it based on absurd stories or the abuse that confuses Spiritism with sorcery demonstrate that they don’t know it. Is Mr. Figuier equipped to judge Spiritism with impartiality? That is what must be evaluated.

Here is how he begins his preface:

“In 1854 when the talking and turning tables appeared in France, imported from America, they produced an impression here that nobody can forget. Many wise and sensible people became alarmed by such an unpredictable development of the passion towards the marvelous. People could not understand such madness, right now in the nineteenth century, with an advanced philosophy and amidst this magnificent scientific movement that drives everything these days to the positive and useful.”

He passed his judgment: the belief in the turning tables is madness. Since Mr. Figuier is a positive man one must believe that before he published his book he had seen and studied everything, in depth; in a word, that he knows what he is talking about. If that were not the case he would make the same mistake as Mr. Schiff and Mr. Jobert (de Lamballe) with their theory of the cracking muscle (see The Review issue of June 1859). We do know, however, that only one month ago he attended a session where he gave demonstrations of ignoring the most elemental principles of Spiritism. Should he be considered sufficiently enlightened because he was present in one session? It is true that we don’t question his perspicacity; however great it is, though, we cannot admit that he can know and particularly understand Spiritism in one session, as he did not learn physics in one lesson. If Mr. Figuier were capable of that we would consider the fact as one of the most marvelous. When he has studied Spiritism with the same dedication that one does in the study of a science; when he has given it the necessary moral time; when he has participated into thousands of experiments; when he has become aware of all facts, without exception; when he has compared every theory, it is only then that he will be able to make a judicious criticism. Until then his judgment is only a personal opinion, without any pro or con weight.

Let us take it from another point of view. We said that Spiritism is thoroughly founded on the existence of an immaterial principle in us, or in other words, in the existence of the soul. Someone that does not admit their own spirit cannot admit a spirit outside. In consequence, by not admitting the cause the effect cannot be admitted. We would like to know if Mr. Figuier would place the following principle in his book, as statement of faith:

1. I believe in God, creator of everything, All-mighty, sovereignly just and good, and infinite in his perfections;

2. I believe in God’s Providence;

3. I believe in the existence of the soul, that outlives the body and in its individuality after death. I believe in that not as a probability, but as something necessary and consequent to the attributes of the Divinity;

4. By admitting the soul and its survival, I do believe that it would not be according to the justice or God’s benevolence that good and evil were treated equally after death, since they rarely receive the deserved reward or punishment in this life;

5. If the soul of the bad and the good one are not treated in the same way, then some are happy and others unhappy, that is to say, they are punished or rewarded according to their deeds.

Had Mr. Figuier made that statement we would tell him: this is the confession of every spiritist because Spiritism would not make sense without it, with the only difference that what you believe in theoretically Spiritism demonstrates through facts, because every spiritist fact is a consequence of those principles. As the spirits that inhabit the space are nothing more than the souls of those who lived on Earth or in other worlds, as soon as the soul, its survival and individuality are admitted, the spirits are also admitted for that very reason. Now that the basis is acknowledged, everything depends on the admission that those spirits or souls may communicate with the living ones; if they can act upon matter; if they have influence on the physical as well as moral world; or on the contrary, if they are destined to an eternal inutility, or only to be concerned with themselves, which is unlikely as long as God’s Providence is admitted and the remarkable universal harmony is taken into account, where even the miniscule creatures have their role.

If Mr. Figuier’s answer were negative or only politely doubtful, in order to avoid shocking very abruptly respectable prejudices, in the words of certain persons, we would tell him: you are no more competent to judge matters of Spiritism than a Muslim to judge matters of the Catholic religion; your judgment could not be impartial and you would unsuccessfully try to avoid preconceived ideas, considering that those ideas are already in your opinion, regarding the fundamental principles that you deny a priori and before knowing the subject.

If one day a board of scientists nominated a secretary to report and examine the issue of Spiritism and that reporter was not frankly spiritualist, this would be the same as having a religious council nominating Voltaire to deal with the subject of dogma. It must be said in passing that people are surprised by the fact that the scientific corporations have not given their opinion but they forget that their mission is the study of the laws of matter and not the attributes of the soul, and even less to decide if the soul does exist. They may have individual opinions about such subject, as they may have about religion; but they shall never have to pronounce as a scientific corporation.

We don’t know if Mr. Figuier would respond to the statement of faith above, but his book allows it to be foreseen. In fact here is how the second paragraph is formulated:

“A precise knowledge of history would have prevented or at least diminish such astonishment. In fact it would be a great mistake to imagine that the ideas that generated the belief in the turning tables and the rapping spirits have a modern origin. This passion for the marvelous is not particular to our times: it is present in all countries and at all times, because it is linked to the very nature of the human spirit. By an instinctive and unjustifiable mistrust in his own capabilities, the human being is led to place invisible forces above his head, exerted from an inaccessible sphere. This congenital disposition has always existed in all periods of human history, dressed differently according to the time, place and costumes, giving rise to different manifestations in the form, however having the same principle in its foundation.”

By saying that “by an instinctive and unjustifiable mistrust in his own capabilities, the human being is led to place invisible forces above his head, exerted from an inaccessible sphere” there is an acknowledgement that the human being is everything, that can do everything, and that there is nothing above him. If we are not mistaken, this is not only materialism but atheism. As a matter of fact such ideas stick out from a number of passages in his preface and introduction, to which we call to the attention of our readers who we are convinced will share our opinion. Can it be said that those words are not applicable to the Divinity, but to the spirits? We shall respond that he then ignores the first word of Spiritism since denying the spirit is the same as denying the soul. Spirits and souls are the same thing and the spirits do not exert their influence in an inaccessible sphere because they are around us, touching us, acting upon the inert matter and every other imponderable and invisible fluid that, irrespectively, are the most powerful drivers and the most active agents of nature. It is only God that exerts his influence from a sphere inaccessible to human beings. Denying such a power is thus denying God. He will finally say that the effects that we attribute to the spirits are certainly due to some of those fluids? That would be possible. However, we would then ask how can unintelligent fluids produce intelligent effects?

Mr. Figuier indicates a capital point when he says that the passion for the marvelous is in all countries and appeared at all times, since it is in the very human nature. What he calls passion for the marvelous, simply put, is the instinctive belief, innate, as he says, in the existence of the soul and in its survival to the body, a belief that has taken multiple forms according to the times and places but fundamentally having an identical principle. Would God have inspired this universal, innate feeling in the individual, to mock later? That would be the same as denying God’s benevolence, and even denying God Himself.

Do you want more proof than those above? The following passages are also from the preface:

“When a new religion transformed Europe in the Middle Ages, the religion was taken by the marvelous. People believed in diabolic possessions, in witches and magicians. For several centuries that belief was sanctioned by a relentless and merciless war against the unfortunate ones accused of secret trade with demons or with sorcerers who are the demons’ representatives.”

“Towards the end of the seventeenth century, at the dawn of a tolerant and enlightened philosophy, the devil age and the accusation of sorcery became a used argument, but that is not enough to deny the marvelous in its own rights.”

“The miracles spread widely in the churches of the multiple Christian beliefs; people simultaneously believed in the divining wand, referring to the movements of a forked stick in order to localize objects of the physical world and to learn about things of the moral world. Several sciences still believe in the supernatural influences, formerly introduced by Paracelsus.”

“Despite the fact that the Cartesian theory about philosophical matters is in fashion in the eighteenth century, whilst all eyes open to the lights of reason and common sense, in this century of Voltaire and the encyclopedia, it is only the marvelous that still resists to the downfall of up until venerated beliefs and the miracles are still plentiful.”

If Voltaire’s philosophy has opened the eyes to the lights of reason and common sense and shook the foundations of so many superstitions, if that could not eradicate the innate idea of an occult power, wouldn’t that be for the fact that such an idea is untouchable?

The philosophy of the eighteenth century shattered the abuse but stopped before the foundation. If such ideas had triumphed against the attacks carried out by the apostle of incredulity, would Mr. Figuier expect to be more successful? Allow us to doubt it.

Mr. Figuier makes a singular confusion with the religious beliefs, the miracles and the divining rod. To him, they all come from the same source: the superstition, the belief in the supernatural. We will not try to defend here that little forked stick which would have the unique property of serving the research of the physical world, because we have not studied the subject and because we have by principle only to praise or criticize something that we know. However, if we wanted to discuss by analogy we would ask Mr. Figuier if the little pointer made of steel with which the sailor finds his route, if that pointer does not have a virtue which is as marvelous as that of the wooden stick. No, he will say, because we know the cause that acts upon the needle and that cause is entirely physical. We agree. But who says that the cause that acts upon the wand is not entirely physical? Before the theory of the magnetic compass was known, what would you have thought if you lived in those days, when the sailors had only the stars as their guides, and that sometimes spoke with them; what would you have thought of a man who told you: I have in my hands a little box, the size of a chocolate box, and a little needle, with which the largest ships can be safely guided; that shows the route in any weather condition with the precision of a clock?

Still once more, we don’t defend the divining rod, and even less the charlatanism that has taken that over. Our only point is what would be more supernatural than a piece of wood, under certain conditions, were agitated by an invisible earthly flow, like the magnetized needle is by the magnetic flux that one cannot see either? Wouldn’t that needle also serve the search for things of the physical world? Wouldn’t it be influenced by the existence of an underground iron mine? The marvelous is the fixed idea of Mr. Figuier; it is his nightmare; he sees it wherever there is something that he cannot understand.

Nevertheless, can he tell us, from his own knowledge, how the tiny grain germinates and reproduces? What is the force that turns the flower towards the light source? Who pulls the roots underground towards a richer and more adequate soil, even through the toughest obstacles? Strange aberration of the human spirit that thinks to know everything and in fact knows nothing; that has before their eyes endless wonders but denies a super-human power!

Since it is based on the existence of God, such super-human power is exerted on an inaccessible sphere; and since it is based on the existence of the soul that outlives the body, keeping its individuality and consequently its influence, religion then has by principle what Mr. Figuier calls the “marvelous”. Had he limited his comments to saying that there are some ridicule and absurd among those classified as “supernatural”, a fact supported by reason, we would applaud him with all our heart, but we could not agree with his opinion when he mixes the principle and the abuse of the principle in the same reproach; when he denies the existence of any power above humanity. As a matter of fact, that conclusion is unequivocally formulated in the following passage:

“From these discussions we believe that it will result to the reader the perfect conviction of the non-existence of supernatural agents and the certainty that all prodigies that have provoked man’s surprise or awe, at all times, can be explained by the exclusive knowledge of our physiological organization. Denial of the marvelous, such is the conclusion to be taken from this book which could be entitled the marvelous explained. If we reach the proposed objective, we are convinced that we would have done a true service to the benefit of all.”

Shedding light upon the abuses and demystifying fraud and hypocrisy everywhere, is no doubt the realization of a great service. However, we do believe that attacking the principle just for the fact that it has been abused is a disservice to society and to individuals. It is the same as taking a tree down just because it has produced a bad fruit.

A well understood Spiritism, revealing the cause of certain phenomena, shows what is possible and what is not possible. Hence, it tends to destroy the truly superstitious ideas; demonstrating the principle, at the same time, it gives an objective to good; it fortifies the fundamental beliefs that incredulity tries to break, under the assumption of abuse; it fights the disease of materialism which is the negation of duty, moral and every hope, and that is why we say that it shall one day be the safeguard of society.

We are in fact far from being sorry for Mr. Figuier’s work. It shall not have any influence whatsoever upon the adepts for they will immediately recognize every vulnerable point. Upon the others it will have the same effect as other criticism: provoke curiosity. Since Spiritism has appeared, or better saying, re-appeared, a lot has been written about it. There has been no lack of sarcasm or attacks. It has not been given the honor of one thing only: a pyre, thanks to the customs these days. Has it blocked its progress? By no means, since it counts its adepts by the millions already, in all corners of the world and those numbers increase daily. Criticism has unwillingly given much contribution to that because its effect, as we said, is to provoke analysis. People want to see the pros and cons and become stunned when finding a rational, logical, consoling doctrine that appeases the anguishes of the doubt, solving what no other philosophy had been able to solve, when they thought it was just a ridiculous belief.

The more renowned the contradictor is, the more repercussion his criticism has and more good it can do, calling the attention even of the indifferent. Mr. Figuier’s work serves that purpose very well. Besides, it was written as a very serious work, not allowing it to be dragged to the terrain of rude and gross personalism, the only resource of the low level critics. Considering that he intends to treat the subject from a scientific point of view, and his position allows him to do so, people will see the last word of science against this doctrine and the public will then know which one to choose.

If the wise work carried out by Mr. Figuier is not powerful enough to cast the last blow onto the doctrine that we doubt that any other will have a better fate. In order to fight it efficiently he has only one means that we gladly indicate to him. One cannot destroy a tree by cutting its branches, but cutting its root. Then, it is necessary to attack Spiritism in its root and not the branches that are born-again after the pruning.

Well, Spiritism’s roots, of this madness of the nineteenth century, to use one of his expressions, its roots are the soul and its attributes. He has then to demonstrate that the soul does not exist and cannot exist since there is no spirit without soul. When this is demonstrated Spiritism will no longer have a reason to exist and we shall acknowledge defeat. If his skepticism does not go that far may he then demonstrate, and not by a simple denial, but by a mathematical, physical, chemical, mechanical, physiological, or any other proof that:

1. The being that thinks during his life no longer does it after his death;

2. If he does think he no longer wishes to communicate with the loved ones left behind;

3. If he can go anywhere he cannot be around us;

4. If he is around us, he cannot communicate with us;

5. He cannot act upon matter through his fluidic body; 6. If he can act upon matter he cannot act upon an animated being;

7. If he can act upon an animated being, he cannot direct the medium’s hand to write;

8. If he can make the medium write he cannot respond to the medium’s questions and transmit his thought to him.

When the adversaries of Spiritism demonstrate to us its impossibility, based on reasons as patent as those of Galileo when he demonstrated that it is not the Sun that moves around Earth, we can then say that their doubts are founded. Unfortunately, up until now, their argumentation is reduced to this: I don’t believe, hence it is impossible. They will certainly say that it is up to us to demonstrate the reality of the manifestations; we demonstrate them by the facts and through reason. If they don’t admit one or the other and if they deny even what they see, it is up to them to prove that our reasoning is faulty and the facts impossible. We will analyze Mr. Figuier’s theory in another article. We hope it is better than Mr. Jobert’s theory of the cracking muscle.

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