Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/639

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The inaugural address of Prof. J. H. Seelye, upon assuming the presidency of Amherst College, has attracted the marked attention that was to have been expected from the eminent scholarship and versatile accomplishments of the author. The interest, moreover, has been especially heightened by the intrepidity evinced in his choice of a subject. President Seelye did not shrink from the responsibilities of the occasion. Taking the helm of a leading orthodox institution for the education of young men, founded we are told "as a breakwater to Harvard, which had been captured by Unitarianism," and, therefore, as a bulwark of evangelical faith, he addressed himself to one of the great vital issues which have been forced upon modern theology and made prominent by the later advances of scientific thought. His subject is the relations of religion to civilization and to education.

President Seelye's argument has been interpreted as an assault upon the doctrine of evolution, and by his admirers as an annihilation of it. The Christian Intelligencer, for example, says, "It has fallen like a bomb into the camps of skepticism;" and has a startling significance "in this day of theological enervation and cowardice before a dogmatic evolutionism." Again, the writer says: "He first of all joins issue with the superficial and unsupported notion that there is 'an inherent law of progress in human nature by which it is constantly seeking and gaining for itself an improved condition,' and contends, on the contrary, that there is a 'law of deterioration.' Most acutely and eloquently does he prick this bubble, blown of sentimentalism and conceit, which has so long been suffered to pass unchallenged, and even been hastily adopted by Christian thinkers."

Now, with this estimate of the address we can hardly agree. If evolutionism be a bubble, we doubt if it has been reserved for President Seelye to prick it; and if the address be a bombshell, there are grounds for thinking that it is the president's own party that must beware of the explosion. His positions are: 1. That the historic phenomena of national decay disprove the doctrine of evolution; 2. That whatever progress there has been is due to the supernatural. He says:

"No historical fact is clearer than that human progress has never revealed any inherent power of self-perpetuation. Arts, languages, literature, sciences, civilizations, religions, have in unnumbered instances deteriorated and left a people to grope in the shadow of death whose progenitors seem to rejoice in the light of life."


"It was not the construction of his house that taught man to build his temple, but exactly the other way. The same is true with sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. It was a religious impulse which gave to all these their first inspiration. The oldest monuments we possess of any of these arts are associated with some religious rite or faith. But, more than this, we must also notice the undoubted fact that the arts have grown in glory just as the religious sentiment has grown in power."

In brief—

"The supernatural is the Alpha as well as the Omega of human thought."

These are favorite ideas with President Seelye, which he has expounded elsewhere, and we shall perhaps get his view more sharply before us by quoting briefly from an earlier statement, also made with deliberate care. In the article on "Darwinism," in "Johnson's New Universal Cyclopædia," he says:

"The history of men is full of instances of deterioration. If we weigh it simply by number, whether of years, or of nations, or of individuals, degeneration and decay vastly preponderate. Where is the civilization now of Tyre, and Carthage, and Babylon, and Nineveh? and where are the arts which built the Great Pyramid and Baalbec? All over the world we have evidence of a tendency among nations and men to sink away from civilization into barbarism, but history