Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/92

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the earth was fixed, and that the sun and stars revolved round it daily, was interwoven in a similar manner with religious feeling, the separation then attempted by Galileo arousing animosity and kindling persecution. Men still living can remember the indignation excited by the first revelations of geology, regarding the age of the earth, the association between chronology and religion being for the time indissoluble. In our day, however, the best-informed clergymen are prepared to admit that our views of the Universe, and its Author, are not impaired, but improved, by the abandonment of the Mosaic account of the Creation. Look, finally, at the excitement caused by the publication of the "Origin of Species," and compare it with the calm attendant on the appearance of the far more outspoken, and, from the old point of view, more impious "Descent of Man."

Thus religion survives after the removal of what had been long considered essential to it. In our day the Antipodes are accepted, the fixity of the earth is given up, the period of Creation and the reputed age of the world are alike dissipated, Evolution is looked upon without terror, and other changes have occurred in the same direction too numerous to be dwelt upon here. In fact, from the earliest times to the present, religion has been undergoing a process of purification, freeing itself slowly and painfully from the physical errors which the busy and uninformed intellect mingled with the aspiration of the soul, and which ignorance sought to perpetuate. Some of us think a final act of purification remains to be performed, while others oppose this notion with the confidence and the warmth of ancient times. The bone of contention at present is the physical value of prayer. It is not my wish to excite surprise, much less to draw forth protest by the employment of this phrase. I would simply ask any intelligent person to look the problem honestly and steadily in the face, and then to say whether, in the estimation of the great body of those who sincerely resort to it, prayer does not, at all events upon special occasions, invoke a Power which checks and augments the descent of rain, which changes the force and direction of winds, which affects the growth of corn, and the health of men and cattle—a Power, in short, which, when appealed to under pressing circumstances, produces the precise effects caused by physical energy in the ordinary course of things. To any person who deals sincerely with the subject, and refuses to blur his moral vision by intellectual subtleties, this; I think, will appear a true statement of the case.

It is under this aspect alone that the scientific student, so far as I represent him, has any wish to meddle with player. Forced upon his attention as a form of physical energy, or as the equivalent of such energy, he claims the right of subjecting it to those methods of examination from which all our present knowledge of the physical universe is derived. And, if his researches lead him to a conclusion adverse to its claims—if his inquiries rivet him still closer to the philosophy