About God – 8

June 26, 2010

Herbert Spencer’s Unknown Cause

Spencer (1820-1903) spent only three years in formal education. He went through many an enterprises, failed inventions, building construction and until forty had not ventured in Philosophy. He picked all his data, ‘as he lived his practical life’, by keen observation, and applied it with an exceptionally clear mind like of a chase player.

Spencer’s French predecessor August Comte (born 1798) had expressed the Three Stage Law, first theological stage is where all the questions and conflicts were answered by a supernatural ‘deity’ or entity or when the stars were gods. The second metaphysical stage when the stars started moving in circles (circle being the basic form), and final is the physical stage where we started explaining things by precise observation and measurements. Philosophy is therefore an Integrative Analysis of all three stages, he believed. His Positive Philosophy and Positive Polity are considered landmarks, which critics said were ‘Catholicism minus superstition’.

Darwin’s (born 1802) theory of evolution (1958) – by natural selection or preservation of favored species – expressed in ‘Origin of species’ was gaining ground.

After Spencer read the theory of evolution, he applied it to every realm. His salient expositions were as follows:

  • Every theory of the Origin ends in cloudiness. All ultimate religious ideas are unimaginable.
  • When we consider matter, it appears that it can be infinitely divisible. However, the idea that it is infinitely divisible does not appeal to us. So is it for Time and Space. They are irrational ideas. Ultimate scientific ideas are therefore inconceivable – with human intellect. We cannot know anything beyond our perception.
  • Thinking is relating. Thought therefore explains only relations.
  • Truth generally lies in coordinating the contrasting information.
  • If we try to explain anything beyond our intelligence or phenomena, it usually becomes nonsense. Laws of science therefore should be applied to phenomena and laws of theology to God. Let science stop to deny the existence of God, and also stop taking materialism for granted.


  • Everything can be explained with help of evolution (circle). All Nature is rhythmical and oscillating. Therefore ‘those (complex, differentiated, diffused ones) which can be explained, come from and finally dissolve in to that (simple, integrated, minute, One) cannot be explained’ is the flow of evolution. This is his Formula of the Synthetic Philosophy.
  • The laws which constitute Synthesis are – Instability of the homogeneous (the Whole/One), the Multiplication of effects (one cause leading to many effects), Segregation leading to diversity (An English can become Australian, American or Canadian under circumstances) and Equilibration (Every motion must come to an end), and finally Dissolution (in to the Whole/One).
  • He opines that our race and the globe will eventually start to spin leisurely, people will have rest, everybody will start thinking of Nirvana, and eventually, equilibration will give way to dissolution, the end of evolution. In the individual also, the Integration called Life will dissolve in to that diffusion which is called Death. (- Why not next cycle of evolution?)
  • Man is a product of Time, and not an accident. He is a descendent from the past and a parent of the future. His thoughts are his children. An Unknown Cause works through him. He is but one of the countless other agencies that work for the Unknown Cause.
  • The unknown cause creates a Belief in a man by which he fearlessly utters the highest truth he has found, playing his right part in the world, knowing that if he can bring about the change he perceives, fine. If he cannot, still fine, but not so fine.

His treaties on Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Ethics and Polity are all based on evolution or synthesis.

Critics said he falls short of explaining why ‘the simple homogeneous One is unstable’ and goes through Synthesis/ Evolution. Other observation was that the heterogeneous, being more complex will be more unstable. Bergson later said that Spencer only collected the available information but did not explain anything.

Spencer spent all his life hand to mouth, never worked for anybody other than himself and grew old lonely. Although his theory was pessimistic and against religion and God, towards end, he mellowed down and accepted that there is no need to disturb the traditional faith and religion as long as it is of assistance to the deprived and had cheering influence on masses. Some consider him to be the greatest English philosopher of his century.


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