1920s >> 1927 >> no-271-march-1927

Science v. Spiritism

To The Editor

I really did not intend that last letter I sent you, for publication. However, as you did print it, it gave me an opportunity of reading your reply, and for this further communication on what you must admit is an important subject.

The difficulty about evidence on psychic matters is that it is so inaccessible to most people : Socialists, especially, are too busy to give time to investigation. Therefore I did not intend any disrespect to you when I said you were not well up in the subject. If you were you would not oppose science to psychical research, as you do when you write : ” Science is based upon knowledge and knowledge only. Observation, experiment, classification, generalisation, are its methods,” implying that these methods are not used in the demonstrations of spiritualism. There are over forty vols. of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research available for study, and the evidence there recorded is based on the scientific method.

Anthropology, archaeology, and ethnography, have moved since the days of the scientists you name, and all the latest views and discoveries confirm the knowledge given by the occultists !

Why object to discoveries because they appear to be archaic? Have you read the chapter on Communism in Hyndman’s book, The Evolution of Revolution?

A scientist of the standing of Charles Richet said, in Nature lately; “Our intelligence is reached by forces that disclose facts which neither sight, hearing, nor touch, could reveal.”

If Socialists object to taking the plunge straight away into survival and spirit communication, let them begin by studying the question of the supernormal powers of man. Is there anything unreasonable in asking them to do this?
Yours fraternally,

By the way, you wouldn’t send anyone to Sir Ernest Benn for arguments for Socialism, and Joseph McCabe and Edward Clodd are in the same category with regard to psychism.


After carefully evading our exposures and criticisms of her pamphlet and letter, Isabel Kingsley gaily sets off on a fresh path of assumptions and misrepresentations. We might demand, in fairness to our readers, that she should attempt to deal with our previous replies before introducing fresh matter. As, however, she has shown no inclination to follow such a course, it may be as well to point out the fallacies in the above letter.

First. As every reader of the December, 1926 Socialist Standard knows, I not only do not admit that Spiritism is an “important” subject, but stated distinctly that it was only a “stumbling block to be cleared out of the way.”

Second. Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet was not written in defence of “psychical research,” but of Spiritism—a wholly different thing—and it was Spiritism we attacked. Even then her case is rotten. The Society for Psychical Research was founded by Spiritists to back up the claims of Spiritists by a show of investigation. And, as their greatest investigator said, when dealing with the report of a Committee who, on one occasion, examined the infamous Eusapia Palladino :—

“It is to be understood, of course, that in investigating phenomena of this kind …. the investigators impose their own conditions at their own risk. …. If the Committee had begun by putting the medium into an iron cage they might have ended with nothing for their money.” (F. Podmore, Newer Spiritualism, p. 115.)

In practically every case the medium dictates the conditions of the séance. This is not “scientific method,” it is just barefaced fraud. Where the investigators insist upon elaborate precautions, the watchers get “nothing for their money.”

The forty volumes referred to by Isabel Kingsley contain an enormous amount of dreary drivel, childish chatter, and imbecile ramblings, but precious little “evidence.”

Occasionally a page is brightened, as on P. 133 of Volume VII., where the great God of the Spiritists, F. W. H. Myers, reports the result of an examination of Eusapia Palladino, held at Cambridge.

”I cannot doubt that we observed much conscious and deliberate fraud which must have needed long practice to bring to its present level of skill …. I do not think there is adequate reason to suppose that any of the phenomena at Cambridge were genuine.”

Third. It is quite true that science has moved since the Victorian days, but I challenge Isabel Kingsley to name one scientific discovery that confirms Occultism or Spiritism.

This challenge was given, in a slightly different form, in our original review of the pamphlet (October, 1926, S.S.), and it is significant to note that challenge has been ignored.

Fourth. I made no objection to any” discoveries,” archaic or other. All that I did was to point out that what Isabel Kingsley, in her ignorance and mental limitations, thought was new, was really borrowed from primitive man.

Richet’s opinion is not scientific evidence and—assuming the quotation is correct, for no date is given—it is for Richet to show how he knows these wonderful facts. Moreover, it will be time enough for Socialists to consider studying the “supernormal powers” of man when any evidence is brought forward that any such “powers” exist.

The postscript is a further illustration of the poverty of Isabel Kingsley’s case, for I never mentioned Edward Clodd’s name at all, and Joseph McCabe’s only in connection with a debate. Here, however, she has laid herself open to a crushing retort. When reviewing her pamphlet in the October (1926) Socialist Standard I showed that, although there were pages of abuse of Marx and the Materialist Conception of History, not a single quotation, or even word, was given from Marx on this subject !

My answer, therefore, is : “No ! I should not send anyone to Ernest Benn or Isabel Kingsley for arguments on Socialism, but would send them to Marx.”

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