As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort
of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the
madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it
covering everything and the sense of it leaving
everything out. Contemplate some able and sincere
materialist, as, for instance, Mr. McCabe, and you
will have exactly this unique sensation. He
under stands everything, and everything does not seem worth
understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every
rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller
than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid
scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien
energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is
not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting
peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon
the sea. The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is
so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole
that a man can hide his head in.
It must be understood that I am not now discussing the relation of materialism to truth; but, for the present, solely its relation to health. Later in the argument I hope to attack the question of objective verity; here I speak only of a phenomenon of psychology. I do not for the present attempt to prove to Haeckel that materialism is untrue, any more than I would attempt to prove to a man who thinks he is Christ that he is labouring under an error. I merely remark here on the fact that both cases have the same kind of completeness and the same kind of incompleteness. You can explain a man's detention in an asylum by an indifferent public by saying that it is the crucifixion of a god of whom the world is not worthy. The explanation does explain. Similarly you may explain the order in the universe by saying that all things, even the souls of men, are leaves inevitably unfolding on an utterly unconscious tree—the blind destiny of matter. The explanation does explain, though not, of course, so completely as the madman's. But the point here is that the normal human mind not only objects to both, but feels to both the same objection. Its approximate statement is that if the man in the asylum is the real God, he is not much of a god. And, similarly, if the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The thing has shrunk. The deity is less divine than many men; and (according to Haeckel) the whole of life is something much more grey, narrow, and trivial than many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole.
G. K. Chesterton (from Orthodoxy, 1908)
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