Sunday, August 12, 2018

Phrenology and Russell

Many claims are being made about Charles Taze Russell and "phrenology". We may not address all these claims, but we will here endeavor to examine a few of them. First, let use examine some dictionary definitions of terms related to "phrenology":

Phrenology: a psychological theory or analytical method based on the belief that certain mental faculties and character traits are indicated by the configurations of the skull. — Dictionary.com Unabridged; Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

Phrenologist: One versed in phrenology; a craniologist. (Webster, 1913)

Crainology: the science that deals with the size, shape, and other characteristics of human skulls. — — Dictionary.com Unabridged; Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

Was Charles Taze Russell a “phrenologist”? If one means by this term one who practices phrenology, no he wasn’t. The broader definition, however, would seem to apply to him, in that he did have some degree of knowledge concerning phrenology, evidently through his association with one “Brother Wallace,” who had been actively engaged in Phrenology before becoming associated with the Bible Students movement, and who continued to use the principles of Phrenology to illustrate Biblical truths after associating with the movement. Russell adopted some of Brother Wallace’s views and presented them in the Watch Tower; however, Russell was certainly not presenting such as dogmatism, and any Bible Student was free to either accept or reject the suggestions he stated.

At this point, we need to note that while Russell was alive, the Watch Tower Society of his day did not claim any authority, nor did Brother Russell believe in any "central authority" here on earth (other than Jesus and the apostles through the Bible). Russell did not speak as being the head of a religious organization, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. All Bible Students were free to accept or reject his conclusions. For documentation, see:
Charles Taze Russell, Authority and Organization

A publication presented in 1923, The Laodicean Messenger, related concerning Russell: “He was an expert in theoretical and practical psychology and phrenology.” We believe this to be an exaggeration, although it is sure that Russell did have a large amount of knowledge in both areas, as can be seen from his writings. Russell, himself, however, never claimed to be the “Laodicean Messenger”.

“Phrenology” was widely accepted in Russell’s day, although it did have many opponents. Many atheists, of course, opposed it, since it would have a localized brain function identified with veneration of God. Others opposed it on the grounds that it was simply too theoretical and lacked direct scientific proof. During the years of the Nazi regime, Phrenology came to be in even greater disrepute due to the misuse of Phrenology by the Nazis, causing many to fear Phrenology as a possible misuse to determine whether a person was a criminal based solely on the shape of his brain, even if he had not committed any crime. Thus, Phrenology is generally denounced today as “pseudo science,” or “quackery.” (We need to remember that many claim similar things concerning the Bible itself.)

Whether the principles of Phrenology, as a whole, are actually true or false is still debated. Even if it could be proven to be false, Russell never presented his suggestions on Phrenology with any kind of dogmatism, and if he was misled by Phrenologists of his day, so were many other people, including such people as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Edison. Nevertheless, Russell appears to be the only one singled out to be attacked for his few undemanding statements concerning Phrenology. Nevertheless, despite whatever arguments are used, much of the opposition to Phrenology was and is probably promoted due to the unwillingness to admit that a certain area of the brain is related to veneration, which would tend to get into the area of proof of God’s existence. Today, especially as related to Russell, many try to connect phrenology with demonic/spiritistic occultism in an effort to falsely portray him as practicing demonism, occultism, and spiritism. In fact, Russell was not involved in any of these.
See:
Russell and the Occult

Elements of “Phrenology”, however, are  still widely accepted, but are not generally referred to under that terminology, but simply spoken of as “localized brain functions,” although it appears that usually “veneration” is left out of the “brain functions,” and the focus is placed upon simply speaking in more general terms of motor and reasoning functions.

Is “Phrenology” actually quackery? Brother Russell did not think so, although he did seem to believe that man’s knowledge of this was perfect. Russell did make some suggestions related to Phrenology as applied to the Bible. We tend to agree with Brother Russell that there is some truth in the principles of Phrenology, but we do not necessarily agree with all the suggestions that Brother Russell presented. Indeed, many Bible Students today may not even know what “Phrenology” is.

One thing Russell said that we highly doubt that many Bible Students would agree with appeared in the Watch Tower of March 15, 1913, page 84:

The question then arises, If the world cannot approach God in prayer, what is the method by which He draws men? The Scriptures say that no man can come unto Christ except the Father draw him. (John 6:44.) The answer is that the drawing cannot be done through the Holy Spirit; for the world has not yet received that Spirit. The drawing power which the Almighty exercises over humanity is in different degrees. Some have a strong desire to worship God, others have a weak desire, and others have no desire at all. This difference is  due to the shape of the brain. Mankind are born with differences in this respect. — Psa. 51:5.

The above is often quoted by those who wish to dissuade faith in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leadership. We are not with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Russell, of course, was never part of any such leadership, and did not present the above as an alleged “authority” as is claimed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leadership today. It was simply presented as a suggestion. Thus, it is improper to retroactively appropriate to Russell himself the discredit that is being endeavored toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership. We ourselves also would seek to discredit faith in the JW leadership, or for that matter, even to putting faith in Russell himself, but at the same without showing disrespect to Russell personally. We definitely do not believe that Brother Russell would want anyone to put faith in Brother Russell above faith in Jesus and the Bible.

What we question in Russell’s statement is the idea that mankind are born with differences in the shape of the brain as this is supposed to related to phrenology. This is possible, but what we would consider to be more likely is that the shape of the brain develops due to usage of localized brain function; thus the parts of the brain that is put to greater use would be more likely to become larger than parts less used.

Did Russell consult a phrenologist, as is being claimed by many, so as to have his the shape of his own brain examined? No, we do not find any evidence that Russell actively sought to consult a phrenologist for such an appraisal of the shape of his head. However, in October, 1911, Brother Russell delivered a lecture at Motherwell, Scotland. It is reported that on that occasion Professor David Dall, a noted Mental Scientist of the British Institute of Mental Science, for his own pleasure made a character sketch of Brother Russell, afterward sending him a copy. The report indicates that the sketch was not made from a personal setting, but that Professor Dall simply made his study by a general observation of the shape of Russell’s head. A copy of this may be seen in Rutherford’s “A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens.


Some claim Phrenology is a form of occult spiritualism, and is thus demonic. The reality is that of itself, Phrenology has nothing to do with such occultism, although like the Bible itself, almost anything can be misused for occult purposes. In other words, the Bible is misused by spiritualists, but this does not mean the Bible itself is in agreement with such spiritualism; likewise, neither should we condemn Phrenology itself simply because it might be so misused.

However, the word "occult" itself simply refers to something that is secret, but which secrets are known to a few. Everything that is labeled "occult" is not necessarily related to some kind of demonism, spiritualism or pagan rituals, etc. One could even refer to the Bible as "occult" since it contains secrets that only those who have God's spirit can appreciate.

One other thing, to Russell, phrenology was not a big thing. He did believe that it was "science" that corroborated the Bible, and that appears to be his greatest interest in it. Out of the enormous amount of works that Russell produced, mention of phrenology probably amounts to less than 1%. Even then, it was only referred to in passsing comments, in which he endeavored to show that the "science" of phrenology corroborated the Bible. There is definitely no indication in any of Russell's reference to phrenology that gives any indication that Russell was involved in "the occult", as often meaning demonic supernatural activity. There is no indication at all that Russell thought that the "science" of phrenology had anything to do with demonic occultism.

While we do not necessarily agree with all Russell's conclusions we are providing links to some of Russell's works in which he mentioned "phrenology."

Condition of Unbelievers in the Resurrection

Evolution and the Brain Age












Links to Some Related Material Online (we do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given):

Phrenology (Wikipedia)


Phrenology (Encylopedia Britannica)

Neuroscientists put the dubious theory of ‘phrenology’ through rigorous testing for the first time






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