Dr. John Fiske delivered the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality in Sanders Theatre last night. He had as his subject 'Life Everlasting."
Dr. Fiske took up the scientific arguments for and against the theory of immortal life and from these arguments sought to deduce and prove the reasonableness of man's faith in the future existence.
The historical beginnings of the theory of immortality were crude. In the primeval savage tribes, it existed in the belief in ghosts who more or less directly influenced the lives of mortal men. As the intellect of mankind developed through the ages, so this theory of immortality grew and became clearer,--showing itself in the religion of the Hebrews, the mythology of the Greeks, and reaching its culmination in Christianity.
It is at least a strong tribute to the theory of immortality that it developed as primeval mankind developed into higher types, it is a still stronger tribute to its reasonableness that in the evolution of species it is first found in the highest types. The lower animals have no idea of death or a future life; it is only in the most intelligent mammals, and in man that it is found.
In the thirteenth century the belief in immortality had reached pre-eminence, but there followed a reaction to scepticism that was almost complete. Men fell back on materialism and natural science and the theory of immortality to be established today must answer the questioning doubts of both of these.
The argument of science which opposes the belief in immortality is first of all the inability of man to conceive a disembodied existence. This argument must fall before the consideration that immortal spiritual life, in its very nature is above the thorough comprehension of man and the inability of man to understand it cannot be taken as proof against its reality. The recent great discoveries of science itself have bared men's minds to the realization that there are whole worlds in nature whose presence men must acknowledge though they utterly fail to comprehend them.
Then, lastly, materialistic science falls back on the great theory of the metamorphosis of motion. The vibrations which produce the senses, says materialism, set the brain into motion, which in turn arouses consciousness and through it the nerves and the body are set in motion. This argument, however, must fall before the strictest psychological research. In reality the brain vibrations themselves set the nerves in motion, and in the circle from the sense vibrations to the resulting bodily movements consciousness nowhere enters in. Consciousness is not aroused by brain action, it is not a link in the chain of physical sensations and it need not perish when the physical brain is dead.