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CORRESPONDENCE.

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

THE SPHERE AND LIMITS OF SCIENCE.

To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

AS you have done my brief after-dinner speech (a kind of performance that usually perishes with the occasion) the honor of an elaborate criticism, which I think a little one-sided and unfair, I ask the privilege to reply.

You say that I used the occasion of the Tyndall banquet "to give a lesson to the scientific gentlemen present as to the proper limit of their inquiries." But that is hardly a just representation. Neither in matter nor manner did I pretend "to instruct" anybody; but, assuming that the Press, on which I was invited to speak, was a kind of universal reporter, I simply asked a few questions of an audience so competent to give the answer, as to the validity of certain speculative opinions confidently put forth in the name of science. That the mode of doing so was neither presumptuous nor offensive, I infer from the cordial approval given to my remarks by eminent scientific gentlemen, both at the time and since.

You seem to resent the speech as an impertinence in saying that "it has ever been a favorite occupation of outsiders to instruct the investigators of Nature where they must stop,"etc. But does Science set up any pretension to the character of an exclusive church? It is true I am an outsider; i. e., I have made no discoveries in science; I have cultivated no special branch of it as a pursuit; all that I know of it I have learned from others, by diligent though somewhat desultory reading, for thirty years past; but may I not, therefore, have an opinion of what I am taught? Is it temerity to endeavor to distinguish what is real science from what is not, particularly at a time when there is so much put forth that is likely to confuse the careless mind?

Be that as it may, what I complain of is, that you class me among the bigots, who in every age have protested against the progress of knowledge, alleging that I presented myself as "the champion of imperilled faith," whereas my protest was merely in behalf of true science against false. And, in order to make out your case, you suppress all reference to the first part of my speech, in which I uttered, as fully as the occasion allowed, the highest estimations of Science and my almost unbounded hopes of its future. Permit me to revive what I said: After hailing Science as the "King of the Epoch," to which all other forms of intellectual activity were doing homage, and as the "mighty Magician," that by its brilliant and fertile researches surpassed whatever the imagination had depicted in fable, I continued: "Science is to me not only a proof of man's intellectual superiority, and the seal of his emancipation from the tyranny of ignorance, but the pledge of an unimaginable progress in the future. By the beautiful uniformities of law, which it discovers in Nature, it discharges the human mind of those early superstitions which saw a despot god in every bush, whose wanton will paralyzed the free flight of our intellect, and debauched our best affections. Neither the tempests nor frowns of Nature are terrible to us, now that we may bend her most hostile forces into willing obedience, and find her full, not of malice, but of good-will. For, out of that benignity, and our supremacy over it, will yet come a power that will enable us to transform these poverty-smitten, sordid, unjust, and criminal civilizations, into happy and harmonious societies, when every man shall be glad in the gladness of his fellows, and, for the first time, feel the assurance of a universal Divine paternity. Science, moreover, in wresting from Creation her final secrets, will furnish to the philosophic mind the means of a more effulgent and glorious solution of the dark problems of life and destiny than it is possible to reach by unaided conjecture. She will prove what the spiritual insight of the seers has only dimly discerned, that Nature, which now seems so inscrutable to us, so hard and unfeeling toward human hopes