Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/743

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

OCTOBER, 1885.


 

NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE,

LATE PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.

I. THE DOCTRINE OF COMETS.

IN all the development of astronomy few things are more interesting than the growth of a true doctrine of comets. Hardly anything throws a more vivid light upon the danger of using isolated texts of Scripture to preserve beliefs which observation and thought have superseded, and upon the folly of arraying ecclesiastical power against scientific discovery.

Out of the ancient world had come a mass of beliefs regarding comets, meteors, and eclipses; these were universally held to be portents sent directly from heaven for the warning of mankind. As to stars and meteors, they were generally thought to presage happy events, especially births of gods, heroes, and great men. So firmly rooted was this idea that we constantly find among the ancient nations notices of lights in the heavens heralding the birth of persons of note. The sacred books of India show that the births of Crishna[1] and of Buddha[2] were announced by such heavenly lights. The sacred books of China reveal similar appearances at the births of Yu, the founder of the first dynasty, and of the inspired sage Lao-tse.[3] In the Jew-

  1. For stars at the birth of Crishna, see Maurice's "History of Hindostan," vol. ii, p. 336; also Cox's "Aryan Mythology" (London, 1870), vol. ii, p. 133; also "Vishnu Purana," Wilson's translation, b. v, chap. iii.
  2. For lights at the birth, or rather conception, of Buddha, see Bunsen's "Angel Messiah," pp. 22, 23–33; also, Alabaster, "Wheel of the Law," illustrations of Buddhism (London, 1871), p. 102; also, Edwin Arnold's "Light of Asia" (London, 1881), p. 3; also, "Life of Gaudama, the Burmese Buddha," by Bishop Bigandet (London, 1880), p. 30; also, Oldenberg's "Buddha," English translation, part i, chap. i.
  3. For Chinese legends regarding stars at the births of Lao-tse and Yu, see Horton's "History of China," i, 137.