“Other Courts” of Judgment

In an essay entitled “‘Fighting Even with Death’: Balfour, Scientific Naturalism, and Thomas Henry Huxley’s Final Battle,” Bernard Lightman characterizes scientific naturalism as “the English version of the cult of science in vogue throughout Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century” (325).  As the title suggests, the essay describes the disagreement subsisting between Huxley, one of scientific naturalism’s most prominent proponents, and Arthur J. Balfour, who, in 1895, published a critique of naturalism, The Foundations of Belief.  Whereas Huxley argued in favor of a “[system] of speculation from which the supernatural is excluded” (339) and “attacked those within and outside the [scientific] profession who were determined to go beyond [the boundaries of proper science] by bringing improper theological concepts into science” (340), Balfour, who endeavored to “[disengage] naturalism … from science itself” (331), maintained that “true science has no quarrel with theology or religion, for all science says is that matters such as the existence of God are beyond its jurisdiction and must be tried ‘in other courts’” (332).  In other words, Balfour did not oppose science; he objected to the naturalists’ criticism of “spiritualism and other beliefs that allowed for the existence of the supernatural” (325).  Balfour considered, “If naturalism … be the whole truth, then is morality but a bare catalogue of utilitarian precepts; beauty but the chance occasion of a passing pleasure; reason but the dim passage from one set of unthinking habits to another” (328).  Convinced of the reality of God, morality, beauty, and reason, Balfour considered scientific naturalism irrational.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – published only two years after Balfour’s critique of naturalism and Huxley’s subsequent response (“Mr. Balfour’s Attack on Agnosticism”) – engages in that same debate.  Throughout the story, Dr. Van Helsing champions Balfour’s distinction between science and scientific naturalism and opposes Huxley’s neglect of the supernatural.  Van Helsing is a scientific man who believes in God and the immortality of the soul, as well as in the enemies of God and the soul.  Before Lucy’s death, Van Helsing speaks of the danger of losing Lucy “body and soul.”  After her death, he speaks of her soul’s bondage and hopes for the time when “the soul of [that] poor lady whom [they all love] shall again be free.”  When that hope is at last accomplished, he rejoices that Lucy is no longer “the devil’s UnDead.  She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him.”

All of these passages evidence Van Helsing’s belief in the supernatural, but what about his admiration for science?  In listing science among the weapons he and his allies will use to fight Dracula, Van Helsing indicates that he does not consider his belief in the supernatural to be in conflict with scientific study.  As Balfour “made it clear … that his critique of naturalism [was] not meant to annihilate science” (331), so also Van Helsing advocates the use of multiple sources of knowledge.  He appeals both to “sources of science” and to “traditions and superstitions” in the fight against Dracula and the UnDead.  “For enemies more mundane,” he recommends a “revolver and [a] knife.”  For those which are spiritual, he presents his allies with “a portion of Sacred Wafer.”

Van Helsing acknowledges both natural and supernatural realities, and, throughout Dracula, he demonstrates how imperative it is not to ignore the supernatural, for men do not fight enemies in whose presence they do not believe, and if not fought, such enemies will prevail.  Van Helsing asks his friends, “A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility [the existence of vampires], in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?”  And yet the “other courts” of which Balfour spoke proved to them just such a reality, which to ignore would have been fatal, both in this life and the next.

Works Cited
Lightman, Bernard. Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. Print.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

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