Sunday, August 12, 2018

Phrenology and Russell

Many claims are being made about Charles Taze Russell and "phrenology". We will 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. — 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. — — 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 “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. 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 published  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 also 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.
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 not 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. This would simply be a theory, however, and not set forth as a doctrine of Biblical truth.

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 spiritistic 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.

Nevertheless, 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. It was not something he was obsessed with, nor was it something that he spent a lot of time with. Out of the enormous amount of works that Russell produced, mention of phrenology probably amounts to much less than 1%. Even then, it was only referred to in rather passive 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 itself 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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Some Early Quotes Regarding 1914

A tactic that many use to attack Brother Russell is to quote some of Russell's expectations as though they were prophecies and then claim that Brother Russell was a false prophet because what he had been expecting did not come to pass.

A website, under the title “Was Charles Taze Russell the Founder of the JW’s?”, gives some quotes from Charles Taze Russell as “gems” that were “published for public consumption.” Among the quotes are the following:
1892 “The date of the close of that ‘battle’ is definitely marked in Scripture as October, 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October 1874.” Watchtower Reprints, 1/15/1892, p 1355. Historians missed this one—The battle of Armegeddon [sic] starting in 1874 and ending in 1914.
What is not presented is that this represents the view Brother Russell adopted from N. H. Barbour in 1876, that is, that Armageddon had already begun in 1874, and would last until 1914. Thus, at that time, Russell was expecting "Armageddon" -- the time of trouble -- to over by 1914. Russell rejected this idea in 1904, when he realized that the time of trouble was to begin, not end, in 1914.
1899 “…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced,” (The Time Is at Hand, 1908 edition, p. 101). Unless earth’s’ rulers were completely overthrown in 1914, Russell missed this one, Big Time.
This latter quote was originally published in 1889; it was not changed in the 1908 edition. However, Russell had changed his view related to this in 1904. Russell, however, did not update his Studies to reflect his change of viewpoint related to 1914, although he presented many statements in his Watch Tower magazine related to the time of trouble beginning -- not ending -- in 1914.

Nevertheless, this would only be important if Russell claimed to a dvinely-inspired prophet, and/or claiming some special authority over fellow believers. Russell disclaimed both, but evidently the purpose is to make it appear that Brother Russell claimed to a prophet, and that he had presented alleged false propheciesl. There are at least a couple of things, however, about the quotes that readers should be aware of.

Point #1

One is that Russell, in writing the statements, did not write them as “prophecy”, nor was he assuming authority so as to judge others related to their acceptance or non-acceptance of his conclusions. He certainly never claimed anyone was not saved if they did not accept his conclusions regarding Bible prophecies. There was no authoritarian JW organization in Russell’s day; however, by the giving the quotes while presenting the false expression that Russell was the founder of the JWs does leave many with the impression that he was stating this with the same “authority” that is claimed by the JW leadership today. What Russell said, however, should be tempered and viewed in the light of his other statements, and not by the tint of the JW organization that was developed after his death.  The two quotes above are from 1892 and 1899, but note the following statements of Russell:

Neither must you lean upon the DAWN and the TOWER as infallible teachers. If it was proper for the early Christians to prove what they received from the apostles, who were and who claimed to be inspired, how much more important it is that you fully satisfy yourself that these teachings keep closely within their outline instructions and those of our Lord; — since their author claims no inspiration, but merely the guidance of the Lord, as one used of him in feeding his flock.
I trust, dear Brother, that, as you examine these publications, that may seem to you to be true of the author which the Apostle Paul said of himself: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ, — the power of God and the wisdom of God. Whether successful or not, others must judge, and especially the Lord; but I ever seek to hold forth the Word of Life.” (Phil. 2:16) True, it has been held forth in my hands (powers), but never as my Word. Hence in no sense have I, as a pope, taken the place of Christ before his Church.
Indeed, time and again I have seen that the teachings of those who make utterances of their own, but in the name of Christ, by claimed inspiration, or special revelations, or boasted wisdom (which is the real spirit of popery), and without proof from the Scripture, are received by many. And I am confident that the DAWN and TOWER would have many more friends and believers if they followed this (popery’s) course; — for as some one has said, “People prefer to be humbugged.” But such a course I dare not follow; I must be true to the Lord and declare his Word, and let him take charge of the consequences.
--1893; letter written by Pastor Russell,
published in “The Watch Tower”, June, 1893 pg. 168

More perhaps than any other servant, ZION’S WATCH TOWER has opposed the thought that the Church of Christ is composed of a clerical class commissioned to teach, and a lay class not commissioned to teach the divine Word: it specially has held up the inspired words, “all ye are brethren” and “one is your Master”; and has pointed out that all consecrated believers are of the “royal priesthood” each fully commissioned, not to “lord it” over others, but to sacrifice himself in the service of the truth, doing good unto all, especially to the household of faith. So with the servants of Matt. 24:49; service is their only commission, not lordship or self-appointment.
– Zion’s Watch Tower, June 15, 1896, pages 139,140

We claim no infallibility for our presentations, nor do we simply offer our opinions and conjectures, after the manner of the scribes and Pharisees; but rather after the manner of the great Teacher, we seek to present to the minds of those interested the teachings of Moses and the prophets, and to voice the testimony of Jesus and the apostles, and to show the harmony of the Scriptures.
– Zion’s Watch Tower, April 15, 1901, page 136


We are not prophesying; we are merely giving our surmises, the Scriptural basis for which is already in the hands of our readers in the six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES. We do not even aver that there is no mistake in our interpretation of prophecy and our calculations of chronology. We have merely laid these before you, leaving it for each to exercise his own faith or doubt in respect to them; but showing our own faith by our works.
“Views from the Watch Tower”, January 1, 1908, page 3, Reprints 4109

Point #2:

Russell admitted that his original statements, as given in the two quotations, were in error at least ten years before 1914. His earlier statements were actually based on Barbour’s earlier viewpoint that the “time of trouble” was to end in 1914. In 1904, Brother Russell rejected this viewpoint, and began to expect that the end of the Gentile Times would see the beginning, not the end, of the time of trouble. Brother Russell died in 1916 believing that the time of trouble had begun in 1914.

Brother Russell, however, did not believe in the Armageddon that the Jehovah’s Witnesses preach. He was never expecting an Armageddon that would eternally destroyed unbelievers; his view was that Armageddon was to chastise (not eternally destroy) the unbelievers. Up until 1915, Brother Russell adopted Barbour’s idea that the “time of trouble” was the same thing as the “battle” of Armageddon. In 1915, he began to view “Armageddon” as the final part of the “time of trouble”, but not that the time of trouble itself was Armageddon.

However, regarding the earlier quotes; these are often presented while ignoring Brother Russell’s change in this viewpoint in 1904, and thus the reader is left to assume that when 1914 came, it was only then that Russell or his associates realized that the earlier statements were in error. Actually, at least ten years before 1914, Russell had come the conclusion that his earlier statements concerning 1914 were not correct. In 1904 he came to realize that the end of the Gentiles Times would mean the beginning of the “time of trouble”, and the not ending of that trouble. He also realized that the battle itself is the final part of that trouble, not the trouble itself. Thus, from 1904 forward, Russell was not expecting the battle of Armageddon to be over in 1914, nor was even expecting the “battle” as such to begin in 1914. However, Brother Russell never made a full overhaul of his Studies in the Scriptures to reflect this change of view in 1904. For documentation from Brother Russell’s own words related to this, please see:

Nevertheless, in making this clarification, it is not our desire to make it appear that Brother Russell was a prophet, or that he was infallible, or that one should follow Brother Russell in all that he said. We do not believe Brother Russell himself would have wanted anyone to do this. We should always remember that one should belong to Christ, who is the way, the truth, and life. — John 14:6.