Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/30

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
20
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

cleared, but a true inductive basis of facts, and especially of laws and methods, must be laid. This was the life-work of Agassiz. Yes, as strange as it may seem to some, it is nevertheless true that the whole inductive basis, upon which was afterward built the modern theory of evolution, was laid by Agassiz, although he himself persistently refused to build upon it any really scientific superstructure. It is plain, then, that all attempts at building previous to Agassiz's work must, of necessity, have resulted in an unsubstantial structure—an edifice built on sand, which could not and ought not to stand. I must stop here in order to explain somewhat fully this important point, and thus to give due credit to the work of Agassiz.

The title of any scientist to greatness must be determined, not so much by the multitude of new facts he has discovered as by the new laws he has established, and especially by the new methods he has inaugurated or perfected. Now, I think it can be shown that to Agassiz, more than to any other man, is due the credit of having established the laws of succession of living forms in the geological history of the earth—laws upon which must rest any true theory of evolution. Also, that to him, more than to any other man, is due the credit of having perfected the method (method of comparison) by the use of which alone biological science has advanced so rapidly in modem times. This is high praise. I wish to justify it. I begin with the method.

Scientific methods bear the same relation to intellectual progress that tools, instruments, machines, mechanical contrivances of all sorts, bear to material progress. They are intellectual contrivances—indirect ways of accomplishing results far too hard for bare-handed, unaided intellectual strength. As the civilized man has little or no advantage over the savage in bare-handed strength of muscle, and the enormous superiority of the latter in accomplishing material results is due wholly to the use of mechanical contrivances or machines; even so, in the higher sphere of intellect, the scientist makes no pretension to the possession of greater unaided intellectual strength than belongs to the uncultured man, or even perhaps to the savage. The amazing intellectual results achieved by science are due wholly to the use of intellectual contrivances or scientific methods. As in the lower sphere of material progress the greatest benefactors of the race are the inventors or perfecters of new mechanical contrivances or machines, so also in the higher sphere of intellectual progress the greatest benefactors of the race are the inventors or perfecters of new intellectual contrivances or methods of research.

To illustrate the power of methods, and the necessity of their use, take the case of the method of notation, so characteristic of mathematics, and take it even in its simplest and most familiar form: Nine numeral figures, having each a value of its own, and another dependent upon its position; a few letters, a and b, and x and y, connected by symbols, and and that is all. And yet, by the use of