Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/288

This page has been validated.

founders of modern science, owing to the fact that with them originated the monotheistic religions. Modern natural science, paradoxical as the statement is, owes its origin to Christianity.

Between polytheism and monotheism there is this difference, that the former is essentially tolerant, the latter essentially intolerant. Socrates apparently fell the victim of religious zeal, but, as we know, political considerations, and his uncomplying behavior toward his judges, had most influence in procuring his condemnation. At the time of the Acts of the Apostles the Athenians paid worship even to unknown gods, lest any deity should be slighted. The Roman Pantheon admitted all gods, even the gods of conquered nations. The Christians were persecuted by the Roman emperors solely because they were esteemed to be dangerous to the state. On the other hand, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have imagined that they each alone possessed the saving faith, and, in a measure, the idea of an absolute truth only came into the world through them. As the Greeks and Romans recognized all sorts of strange gods in addition to their own, and as the Semitic parable of the three rings would have been amiss among them, so, too, with regard to scientific truth, they were not over-particular. Their undeveloped instinct of causality was satisfied when they could assign for a phenomenon some ingenious explanation which pleased the fancy; and their researches of ultimate causes consisted really only of delightful conversations about what appeared admissible. "What is truth?" asked the Roman magistrate, in derision. "I came into the world to bear witness to the truth," said Jesus, and allowed himself to be crucified.

The idea of a God who suffers no other gods beside him, who appears not as a human invention involved in unworthy fables, but as the highest, the absolute Being, who is the centre of all man's moral aspirations, and who with unerring omniscience notes every transgression—this idea of God, entertained for hundreds of years by generation after generation of men, accustomed the mind of man, even in scientific matters, to the thought that throughout the universe the cause of things is one only, and inspired him with the wish to know this cause. Faust's heart-felt cry—

"Du musst, du musst, und kostet' es mein Leben!"[1]

is one quite foreign to the spirit of the ancient world. The fearful earnestness of a religion which claimed for itself all knowledge, which threatened its adversaries with everlasting torture in the next world, and claimed the right even in this life of visiting them with the most horrible punishment, imparted to humanity in the lapse of centuries that character of sobriety and of profundity which certainly fitted them better for patient research than did the light-hearted joy of life favored by the heathen religions. Where so many martyrs were teach-

  1. "Thou must, thou must, though it cost me my life!"