Alfred Russel Wallace Investigates Miracles, Mediums, and the Morality of the Spirit World
Written By: Paranormal News
Alfred Russel Wallace (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) was a naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He was also a firm believer in spiritualism which often placed him at odds with other scientific men of his day. He independently produced his own theory of natural selection, which eventually extended itself into the spirit world as well. His own opinions of a non-material origin of the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with other proponents of the theory of evolution, but regardless, he was never dissuaded from accepting the testimonies and first-hand evidence that he collected.
Speaking before the Dialectical Society, he induced skeptics to reconsider the inherent credibility of 'miracles' by clarifying the definition originally put forth by the philosopher David Hume after performing a study of his own on the nature of spiritualistic phenomena through the mediums of his time, including that of D.D. Home. His essays were eventually put together in a sought-after collection entitled 'Miracles and Modern Spiritualism' which was published in 1875--around the same time as William Crookes's published his own experiments on psychic force.
In his collection of essays, Wallace wrote that many people puzzled over his interest in spiritualism. Natural Selection and spiritualism were seen as totally incompatible, and the opinions of many stated that the clergy must have influenced his ability to be rational. His own belief held that invisible intelligences, although invisible and intangible, acted upon mankind, and these invisible intelligences were ultimately responsible for the phenomena associated with spiritualism. Although natural selection played some role in the evolution of man, so too did invisible intelligences.
Wallace believed that truth could take care of itself and only error needed to be protected. One belief that many held as a part of a liberal education is that miracles are false and the supernatural does not exist. As such, he decided to look into it for himself in order to see what was truth and what was error.
In David Hume's work entitled 'An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding,' Hume had written an article entitled 'On Miracles' which he believed would stem the flow of false beliefs and superstitions. In this work, two definitions of 'miracle' are given: 1) A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; 2) A miracle is a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Diety; or by the interposition of some visible agent. Wallace read this and came to the conclusion that both of these definitions of a miracle are invalid as they assumed mankind knew all of the laws of nature, and assumed that if an invisible or an intelligent being held an apple in the air and suspended it without dropping, this act would violate the law of gravity. How then, he asked, could Hume know that a violation of a law of nature had actually occurred?
Wallace then went on to give a different definition for a miracle. “A miracle, as distinguished from a new and unheard-of natural phenomenon, supposes an intelligent superhuman agent either visible or invisible.” It did not matter to Wallace whether or not the act was done by God. The miracle itself could have been done by a disembodied individual or some other intelligent being. A miracle, he continued, is “any act or event necessarily implying the existence and agency of superhuman intelligences.” One does not know all the laws of nature, so one cannot properly determine whether or not a law had been violated.
Hume also stated in his work that there is no place found in history in which any miracle was witnessed by a sufficient number of men of good sense and education, but Wallace addressed that, stating it was not the case, both in history and modern times where so many men of high character witnessed the levitation of D. D. Home. Hume himself brought up a laundry list of incidents in which learned men walked away from a supposed miracle as converts. Hume furthered his argument by stating the assumption that any miracle, if real, could only come from God—which Wallace believed completely disregarded the possibility of an infinite number of other intelligences which may exist in the universe between mankind and a potential Diety.
Another argument at the time against D.D. Home's ability to levitate was that it was simply impossible and therefore could not be true. A large body of people of sane mind and high education testified to seeing Home levitate on multiple occasions. Dismissing all of those eye-witness testimonies on the ground that levitation is simply impossible made little sense to Wallace. William Crookes as well, in his own investigations, brought up the same point. Crookes being a trained scientist and well-respected for his capabilities observed Home levitate, as did a multitude of other trained and well-respected people.
An additional argument claimed that spiritualistic phenomena could be dismissed since it did not seem to follow any type of law or equation. Since you can predict neither when nor to what extent phenomena can be observed, you cannot create any formula for it. Only if a law can be deduced from the phenomena should it be believed by the scientific men of that era. Wallace stated this argument was relatively childish since most spiritual phenomena involved intelligence, and just as you cannot predict what a human will do, you cannot predict what a spiritualistic intelligence will do, either.
Wallace also brought up the point that most scientific men believed spiritualism was simply not worthy of any credit as no scientific knowledge had been built up surrounding the phenomena. Ben Franklin, however, was laughed at when speaking of his lightning conductors before the Royal Society, Thomas Gray was laughed at concerning his belief in the practicality of railroads, and Galileo was equally scoffed for their opposing viewpoints as well. History is filled with incidents in which people were laughed at for convictions that turned out to be very real and, in most cases, useful. Why not, wondered Wallace, give the same possibility to what is discovered with spiritualism?
William Lecky, author of the History of Rationalism and the History of Morals, stated this about miracles: “In certain stages of society, and under the action of certain influences, an accretion of miracles is invariably formed around every prominent person or institution.” Wallace addressed this by saying 'accretion' does not form around the Pope, otherwise the Pope would be surrounded by miracles, just as Luther would have been surrounded by miracles. In most cases, claimed Wallace, it is the humblest of individuals within the church who have had the power of working miracles, and this has led to them being canonized. Stating that the accretion of miracles surround prominent individuals is a statement which sounds philosophical, but has no proof of which to warrant belief.
Wallace thus felt that if we understood a miracle to be the existence of intelligent beings invisible to us yet capable of acting on matter, all of the preceding arguments against miracles were invalid. Also, to state a natural law has been somehow violated assumes that all laws are known. Many apparent 'miracles' have often been due to laws of nature that were not yet known. It was thus easy for Wallace to suppose that spiritualistic phenomena observed by well-trained men documented throughout history were merely a result of dealing with the unknown rather than a miracle-like act of God.
The existence of sentient beings that cannot be recognized by our senses does not contravene any universal laws any more so than structureless Protozoa who do not have any differentiated parts that animal life appears to require. In addition, our own senses merely give us a small portion of a much greater picture.
Furthermore, wrote Wallace, light, heat, electricity, magnetism, vitality and gravitation are believed to be modes of motion in tiny forms of matter. These minute vibrations are themselves, unobserved, and we only are aware of its effects on matter. Why couldn't there also be unobserved intelligences existing within the ether we all share that have higher forms of perception who can utilize these vibrations themselves to have an effect on matter? The universe could not only contain infinite forms of matter and motion, but it could also contain infinite forms of intelligences who are constantly passing in and out of new forms of existence. Given that these entities exist, no violation of any law of nature would be occurring, and as such, supernatural forces could, in turn, be quite natural.
Wallace also found it extraordinary that, although thousands of well-educated men and women have been converted to the belief in the phenomena of spiritualism, no one has ever been converted back from it.
WALLACE ON CLAIRVOYANCE
Recounting several spiritualistic exercises, Wallace wrote of one well-known clairvoyant named Alexis Didier who was questioned by Robert Houdin, a well-known conjurer at the time, to verify and validate Didier's abilities. Alexis had been found on several occasions to play cards blind-folded and read any lines of any book that were called out by someone's hidden finger. Dr. Lee wrote of this in his work on Animal Magnetism, and recounted that during the experiment, Houdin brought his own set of cards and his own book. Houdin dealt a hand, and Alexis immediately told him every card without turning them up. Houdin also pulled out a book from his pocket, pointed to a line, and told Alexis to read the line 8 pages further at the same location from where he was pointing. After the experiment, Houdin stated that he found the capability 'stupifying' and signed a declaration which said, “I cannot help stating the facts above related are scrupulously exact, and the more I reflect upon them the more impossible do I find it to class them among the tricks which are the object of my art.” To dismiss this and claim it was not witnessed by a keen observer makes little sense, given that Robert Houdin was trained in the art of trickery.
In possibly one of the first remote-viewing exercises ever conducted, Adolphe Didier who was brother to Alexis was visited by Mr. H..G. Atkinson F.G.S. at a house in London. A noblemen wrote a word at the bottom of a piece of paper and folded it five or six times and handed it to Adolphe. Adolphe made several trials, where he wrote what he believed to be the word a number of times, crossing them out again and again until eventually settling upon what was written. Wallace believed that this was an indication of a sense in humans, much like an empathic ability, which is derided by degrees. Instead of writing 'it is a medal', clairvoyants write 'it is metal' and 'it has writing on it' until they eventually come up with something concrete. These types of 'miracles' Wallace felt should not be dismissed, as there are thousands of cases in history attesting to this.
It is often claimed, continued Wallace, that apparitions or levitating tables are no more than hallucinations as they are only seen by a single individual. In no instance can it be considered an hallucination, however, if more than one individual sees the same thing. Hallucinations are not shared. As such, the witnessing of the raising and lowering of tables in Home's presence by seven people, all attesting to what they observed, demands that a man of science accept it as evidence that it was not an hallucination.
Relaying another incident, Wallace next discussed Augustus De Morgan, who wrote in support of spiritualism himself in 1863 in the work entitled “From Matter to Spirit”. He was a Professor of Mathematics, educated at Cambridge, and the Secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society for 18 years. “Suppose a person wholly new to both subjects, wholly undrilled both in theology and physics. He is to choose between two assertions, one true and one false, and to lose his life if he chooses the false one. The first assertion is that there are incorporeal intelligences in the universe, and that they sometimes communicate with men; the second is that the particles of the stars in the milky way give infinitesimal permanent pulls to the particles of earth. I suppose that most men among those who have all-existing prepossessions would feel rather puzzled to know which they would have chosen had they been situated as above described.”
In an experiment he conducted with a medium named Mrs. Hayden, Morgan asked the spirits to answer a question he held in his head through rappings. He held up a card with the alphabet written on it. The word 'chess' was given during a rap when his finger passed over each letter in confirmation of the question in his head. In no way could Mrs. Hayden have known his question, nor could she have known which letter he was pointing at for her to cause the rappings herself. In his mind, this was proof that another external, unseen intelligence.
So many men of science had lost their positions simply by stating they believed some of the phenomena was legitimate, despite the fact that there were so many impostures. Judge Edmonds, for instance, who was for some time President of the Senate and was made a Judge of the Supreme Court of New York, had to resign when it became known that he was convinced in the legitimacy of table-tipping. He originally went in to those séances wanting to expose the deception, but often left after reaching a different conclusion. Was Judge Edmonds deceived? Asked Wallace rhetorically. Did he suffer from insanity?
Robert Hare, M.D. Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania, conceived of a device to prove there was no force other than human force which was applied to the tables. He had read Faraday's accounts only to become unconvinced that Faraday's work explained all the witnessed phenomena. However, after testing his device during a number of séances, he came to the opposite conclusion. There was another power or force at work other than by those sitting at the table, and that power expressed an intelligence. Upon one table, he forced the medium to place his hands on a metal plate supported by metal balls that absorbed her impulses, yet the table moved easily. In another, the medium's hands were placed in water, and a spring balance registered a force of 18 pounds applied to the balance.
Thus, wrote Wallace, it was not true that no scientific men had investigated the claims. Time and time again, they have investigated, and have come away completely and utterly convinced. In addition, the communications received by these spiritual entities gave evidence of the future life of human beings which made more sense than any of the other theories put forth by learned men at the time. If the intelligence was delusional, why then, did it make so much sense?
In an extremely rare instance of conviction found by Wallace, Professor Challis, the Plumerian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, stated his own belief in spiritualistic phenomena to the Clerical Journal, and he did so based off of the massive number of eye-witness testimonies at the time. He himself, had never witnessed anything. “In short,” he wrote, “the testimony has been so abundant and consentaneous, that either the facts must be admitted to be such as are reported, or the possibility of certifying facts by human testimony must be given up.”
After reviewing all of the literature and testimony surrounding the phenomena which Wallace himself witnessed, he stated it would seem to be a daunting task to try to form an impression of a universal system which can embody all of it. The hypothesis, however, is an old one: spirit is the essential part of all sensitive beings, and the body is an instrument by which the spirit perceives and acts upon other beings and matter. The spirit is that which feels, perceives, and thinks. The spirit acquires knowledge, reasons, and aspires. The brain, however, is but a magnetic battery and a telegraph in which that spirit communicates with the outside world. In addition, although it would seem that the spirit is inseparable from the body, there are certain people who can, and do, perceive independently of their organs, if not fully independently of their organs by leaving their body. Also, it would seem as if the spirit will retain its former modes of thought after death with the new state being a natural extension of the current one, although that spirit will have new modes of acquiring knowledge. In most cases, Wallace continued, in order to communicate with the spirit world, a spirit must first “satisfy the inquirer of its existence.” This can be extremely difficult in the face of strong skepticism, but he believed the case he presented in support of spiritualism would help find a number of converts to further its philosophies and investigations.
Wallace then went on to describe what he felt could be summed up as the tenants of the 'religion of spiritualism':
1. Man survives the death of his body, gifted with new powers, but mentally and morally the same individual as he was on earth.
2. That he commences from that moment on a course of apparent endless progression at a speed which is in proportion to his mental and moral faculties that he cultivated on earth.
3. That his future happiness or misery is dependent upon himself.
4. That those who have depended more on their body for their happiness will grieve for its loss and will progress at a slower pace.
5. Neither punishments nor rewards will be received, and each person's condition will be based on the consequences of his life on earth.
6. In place of the 'survival of the fittest', there is a law of 'progression of the fittest' in which, if you are unfit, you will not progress as fast.
In a few striking revelations received through séances, it was explained that spirits communicate with other spirits in certain 'spheres' based on thought-reading and sympathy. The more alike spirits are to one another, the more they exist in similar spheres. Spirits which are not alike find it impossible to communicate with one another. Spirits from higher spheres can communicate with those on lower spheres, but the reverse is not the case. Progression is dependent entirely upon the will. Evil spirits do not exist—instead, they are merely the spirits of bad men, and the worst are those who are unable to progress or have become stuck because of their own lack of will. Beauties and pleasures are different than they are here, both of which become further realized by the will in the spirit world, and the infinite cosmos is a field where the highest developments of intellect are available in a sea of endless knowledge.
Another communication by a trance-medium named Mrs. Emma Hardinge, stated that in the spirit world, there is royalty, but the aristocracy is one of true merit. The wise are those who govern, and all revelations of science and art and the mysteries of space and life on earth must be known before one can progress. The spheres of Earth are never left until all this knowledge is obtained, while not one bit of what a spirit learns here is ever forgotten. You cannot progress through to Heaven, the spirits said, until you know all there is to know about Earth. Wallace himself could not picture a more perfect after-life, one of infinite progression. Each planet exists as spheres within spheres until each impinges upon another, forming a vast network of connections and a harmonious system. The effects of vice are replayed—gamblers hover around gamblers, drinkers around drinkers, but their vice is unable to be refilled like the glass they once held. Eventually, though, they move on, as progression is the rule and not the exception.
Why, Wallace wondered in his essays, should so many talented mediums be considered a fraud when the morality most often revealed by them are in almost perfect agreement? Their depiction of the spirits are in stark contrast to that which is generally revealed by mainstream religions, yet regardless of their backgrounds, the same revelations are given: infinite growth, the survival of the soul at death, and the absence of punishment. Laughter continues, play continues, and the personality of those who have gone to that place continues and makes its presence known. Those who have passed on claim that they communicate with intelligences which are higher than themselves, yet of God, they know nothing. If the teachings were fraudulent, they should be discontinuous and random, but they are not.
When discussing the claims that individuals during séances are actually mesmerized, Wallace brought up key difference. Whereas in mesmerism, the individual never has any doubts of the suggestion, during séances, individuals are free to criticize and examine phenomena. You can tell a patient that he is in the middle of a jungle and he will believe it is the case and describe it to you—but he will not question his surroundings and explore if he really is in a jungle. It is actually, claimed Wallace, the medium who is mesmerized and not those attending the séance, as the medium is who expresses the characteristic of mesmerism through coma, trance, rigidity, and abnormal powers.
In the first documented case presented by Wallace, on March 1848, a nine year old girl named Miss Kate Fox was accompanied by knocks that could not be explained. She was placed under thorough examination by members of her town in Hydesville, New York. Everyone relied on skepticism, but even so, the rappings could never be explained by more natural causes. On further examination, questions were posed only for the town to discover they were being given a signal with which they could communicate. After following a chain of questions, it was discovered that the tappings eventually indicated a body buried in the basement of her home in the cellar, and, upon digging up the location, bones were discovered about six or seven feet beneath the floor. The name of the man who had murdered was given. When testing the phenomena, Kate had her ankles tied, barefoot, and forced to stand on pillows. The origin of the phenomena was declared to be undiscoverable.
Around 1854, Professor Mapes who was an agricultural chemist created his own group with twelve other friends to investigate for themselves the supposed rappings. They worked with a medium once a week for twenty séances and experienced nothing. The first 18 meetings met with little success and the group desired to abandon the entire effort as a waste of time, but the last two seances, they witnessed phenomena so startling that the group ended up continuing for four more years. Every single one of the men became spiritualists.
In 1860, Miss Kate Fox was tested by Dr. Robert Chambers and Robert Dale Owen, who were able to measure the weight of the table changing by using a steelyard that was suspended from a dining table. Using it, they measured a change in weight, at one time displaying 60 pounds and at another, 134 pounds. While doing this, he varied his experiments, switched rooms, examined furniture, and found no evidence of any deception.
Another medium tested by Wallace had been Mrs. Guppy who discovered her own talents of mediumship after agreeing to take part in a séance. Over time, her skills seemed to be developed. At one point when the lights were darkened, she had been holding the hands of others in a circle when many felt her being glided upwards away from them. When they turned on the light, they found her chair resting on the table and her head touching the chandelier. Because she had been such a heavy individual, the ability for this to occur without making a single noise, let alone getting onto the table, Wallace felt it would have been physically impossible to do with trickery.
Hundreds of other instances were recorded in Wallace's house such as the appearance of a sun-flower upon request that found its way onto the table with dirt still around its roots. Other times, flowers and fruit appeared perfectly fresh, sometimes with dew still upon their petals. No known scientific theory could account for these apparitions, and Wallace, while relaying these incidences, seemed to be crying out to the scientific community to please take it seriously and not blow it off as delusions, mesmerism, nerve impulses, and illusion. Each medium had their own particular traits and, as such, would allow for different phenomena to appear.
J.W. Edmunds recounted in over 1600 pages of notes created that documented his séances all that occurred and, over time, both he and his daughters developed their own mediumship. His daughter, for instance, learned how to speak in nine or ten foreign languages and converse with foreigners in their own dialect, despite the fact that she alone knew only English and a very small amount of French. Wallace stated that a man would know the languages his daughter had learned, and those who held conversations with her would know whether or not she was making any sense. The language issued forth from her daughter was supposedly spoken by the spirits themselves who had come to communicate with visitors to the house.
Each time evidence was brought forth answering the skeptics, the skeptics would find yet another reason to rule out delusion and trickery. At one point, after hearing of the luminous orbs of light that were seen during séances, skeptics asked for a mere photograph in which would prove beyond a doubt that the phenomena was real. However, once produced, the evidence was claimed to be fraudulent as any photographer could have recreated the photographs to deceive others.
Wallace himself went to have a spirit photograph done on March 14th of 1874 at Mr. Hudson's with Mrs. Guppy as a medium. Before the photograph, he held a séance with Mrs. Guppy which stated that his mother would make an appearance within the photo. He had three photos taken, each time a second figure appearing with him. One photo showed a male figure with a short sword. The second photo showed a figure looking down on him with a bunch of flowers. The third photo showed a woman standing very close to him. When he watched the photos developing, it was the appearance of the spirit which first showed up, and 20 seconds later, his own photo would appear in its proper place. While sitting for the second photo, Mrs. Guppy mentioned that she was sensing someone next to him with a bunch of flowers. Wallace afterwards declared it was very well known that photographers had learned how to fake spirit photos, but his own experiences were done only with the help of a medium, and the photos themselves were quite convincing as portraying the likeness of his mother. In many cases, however, it seemed that the human figure was much more difficult to be recreated on photographic plates than washed out forms of light.
Summing up some of the benefits of spiritualism, Wallace stated that it gave grounds to accept the claims in the past of oracles such as the Prophetess Pythia of whom Plutarch wrote in great detail. In addition, he brought up a number of miracles written about in the Old and New Testament which he felt were given more credence based on the research of Spiritualists. Even saintly miracles fit underneath the same category—since Home and other mediums had been witnessed floating in the air, so too could St. Francis d'Assisi and St. Theresa.
Spiritualism also gave a rational explanation to a number of the elements of witchcraft. Since spirits can manifest themselves in a way that will be recognizable to the witnesses, a spirit taking on the form of the Virgin Mary would thus indicate this type of behavior. Prayer could be used to call upon a number of spirits who sympathize with the person who prays. The proof provided by spiritualism that there is life after death also brought much needed peace to those who need it most, whether they be in the clutches of sickness or coping with the death of a loved one. “It substitutes a definite, real, and practical conviction, for a vague, theoretical, and unsatisfying faith.”
In summarizing the teachings further, Wallace continued and stated that man is a duality, consisting of both a spiritual and physical self. Death is a separation of that duality and affects no change in the spirit. Progressive evolution of the spirit, he believed, is the objective in this life as well the next, and the experiences of earth-life form a foundation for the experiences of spirit-life. Spirits are continually attracted to those they love and strive to influence them for good. If it were, for instance, that revelations such as this given by mediums were the direct result of the beliefs in which the mediums themselves were raised, why then did the spirits coming through the medium convey beliefs that are not taught by the medium's own orthodox faith? If they were faking their revelations in any way, why then didn't they proclaim instances of heaven and hell instead of those consisting of never-ending growth? The channelings admittedly did reveal certain dogmas, but they confirmed similar spiritual facts. Only through a careful study of the spiritualistic teachings could this be observed.
Wallace then addressed Dr. Carpenter's skeptical book, “The Principles of Mental Physiology” in which Carpenter claimed that no spiritualist had proven, scientifically, that a table moved without the pressure of an index finger despite the fact that several were challenged on multiple occasions to do so. Wallace replied that it was men of science who had uniformly refused to witness the proof, not the mediums who systematically allowed themselves to be placed under the microscope. As such, the blame should be on the men of science. Wallace himself had invited Carpenter to his own table-tipping sessions on multiple occasions, to which he only came once and, at the time, it had been a relatively unsuccessful séance in which only rappings were heard. Wallace said that if Carpenter had only attended three or four sessions would he have witnessed the phenomena himself.
Furthermore, Dr. Sharpey and Professor Stokes--both secretaries of the Royal Society--refused invitations that were given to them by William Crookes to witness séances held with D. D. Home. Carpenter also completely ignored in his book the experimental evidence provided by the Dialectic Committee concerning the movement of heavy objects without contact with the medium at all.
Carpenter's claim that 'unconscious cerebration' was the answer to all phenomena seemed child-like to Wallace, as giving something a name is not a sufficient explanation and did not really bring anyone a single step closer to understanding the phenomena itself. Finding a practical purpose for it—such as in the form of an equation of psychic force--should not impede the truth or the reality of spiritualism, either. It was of no consequence, Wallace continued, whether or not a spirit can improve an engine or a telegraph in order for mankind to accept the existence of an invisible class of beings. Their very existence outside of any direct practicality should not preclude the study, as the existence of spirits raised an entire host of philosophical and religious issues through which mankind could benefit and gain much needed solace and understanding concerning their own nature. Men do not listen to preachers simply because of the affect it will have on the weather, but preachers can still say something of which man can find some redeeming value. To Wallace, the same held true for the lessons received by direct evidence presented within spiritualism.
Further Reading: Miracles and Modern Spiritualism