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A Doubter's Doubts About Science and Religion Preface

By Robert Anderson


      SOME of the following chapters we printed in a volume a few years ago. It may be thought perhaps that the criticisms they contain are out of date, now that Spencer-ism is dead and Darwinism discredited. But though biological theories which reigned supreme a few years ago have been abandoned or modified by "men of light and leading," their influence still prevails with the general public; and in response to appeals from several quarters I have reproduced the chapters in question.

      The fact that A Doubter's Doubts was published anonymously may indicate how little its author thought of it. But among many signal proofs that it was appreciated by others, the most important was Mr. Gladstone's notice of it. And the circumstances in which the following letter was written lend to it a peculiar interest. The extracts from his diary, given in Mr. Morley's Life of Mr. Gladstone, record that December 18, 1889, was the occasion of Parnell's historic visit to Hawarden, and that the day was devoted to reviewing and reconsidering the whole Irish question, and discussing it with the Irish leader. And yet on that very day Mr. Gladstone found leisure to read my book, and to write to me about it. I should add that I had not sent it to him, nor was I aware that he possessed it.

      HAWARDEN,
      December 8, 1889.

      DEAR SIR,

      I do not know whom I have the honour of addressing, but I wish to thank you for your Doubter's Doubts, and to say that I have read it with a great deal of sympathy and concurrence in the main argument.

      It implies no abatement of this declaration if I take upon me to offer a particular criticism. You strongly censure sacerdotalism, and so do I, in the sense in which I understand it; for it takes the reins of government out of the hands of those whom God has made free and responsible for their freedom, and gives them to another, under the system which is called direction. But I question whether you have stated with your usual precision the constituent portions of it which you select for special condemnation. I apprehend that the best Roman Catholic Divines would not place the consecration of the elements in the Holy Eucharist within the category of miracles; and neither Roman nor Anglican doctrine claims for the clergy the exclusive power of valid Baptism. That power was more restricted in the views of the Puritans, and of foreign Protestants, than of their opponents.

      I presume to hope that you will follow up the subjects of your volume with the same care, force, and exactitude which in it you have bestowed especially upon the treatment of the main argument, and

      I remain, dear Sir,
      Your faithful and obedient,
      W. E. GLADSTONE.
      The Author of A Doubter's Doubts.

      In my reply I acknowledged my error respecting baptism- an error which has now been corrected; but I urged that for the purpose of my argument I was entitled to insist that the change of the elements in transubstantiation was in the strictest sense a miracle. This brought me a further letter from Hawarden, from which the following is an extract -

      "I agree with you about dilapidation in some quarters, and danger in more. I think that to counterwork the process, and try to build up his fellow- creatures in the faith, is the highest way a man has of serving them. I opine that you are not very far from this sentiment ; and I heartily hope your book may be useful, and that you will pursue the paths of knowledge congenial to it."

      So much for the earlier chapters of this volume. As a whole it is addressed to men of the world, and from the standpoint of scepticism- the true scepticism which tests every-thing, not the sham sort which credulously accepts anything that tends to discredit the Bible. In an age that has seen not only a revival of some venerable superstitions but the rise of many new fangled superstitions of various kinds, genuine scepticism is an ally to faith. And, writing from this standpoint, destructive criticism is in the main my method. To some the book will seem unsatisfactory on this account, and yet they must recognize the importance of thus refuting the claims which infidelity makes to superior enlightenment. Others may think that in these pages the difficulties which perplex the Bible student are dismissed too lightly. Here I must either accept the criticism, or risk a charge of egotism if I appeal to my other books in proof that I neither ignore difficulties nor attempt to minimize them.

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