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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/366

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By Professor T. H. HUXLEY, F. R. S.

IF there is any truth in the old adage that a burned child dreads the fire, I ought to be very loath to touch a sermon while the memory of what befell me on a recent occasion, possibly not yet forgotten by the readers of this Review, is uneffaced. But I suppose that even the distinguished censor of that unheard-of audacity to which not even the newspaper report of a sermon is sacred, can hardly regard a man of science as either indelicate or presumptuous, if he ventures to offer some comments upon three discourses, specially addressed to the great assemblage of men of science which recently gathered at Manchester, by three bishops of the State Church. On my return to England not long ago, I found a pamphlet,[1] containing a version, which I presume to be authorized, of these sermons, among the huge mass of letters and papers which had accumulated during two months' absence; and I have read them not only with attentive interest, but with a feeling of satisfaction which is quite new to me as a result of hearing or reading sermons. These excellent discourses, in fact, appear to me to signalize a new departure in the course adopted by theology toward science, and to indicate the possibility of bringing about an honorable modus vivendi between the two. How far the three bishops speak as accredited representatives of the Church is a question to be considered by-and-by. Most assuredly, I am not authorized to represent any one but myself. But I suppose that there must be a good many people in the Church of the bishops' way of thinking; and I have reason to believe that in the ranks of science there are a good many persons who, more or less, share my views. And it is to these sensible people on both sides, as the bishops and I must needs think those who agree with us, that my present observations are addressed. They will probably be astonished to learn how insignificant, in principle, their differences are. It is impossible to read the discourses of the three prelates without being impressed by the knowledge which they display, and by the spirit of equity, I might say of generosity, toward science which pervades them. There is no trace of that tacit or open assumption that the rejection of theological dogmas, on scientific grounds, is due to moral perversity, which is the ordinary note of ecclesiastical homilies on this subject, and which makes them look so supremely silly to men whose lives have been spent in wrestling with these questions. There is no attempt to hide away real stumbling-blocks under rhetorical stucco; no resort to

  1. "The Advance of Science." Three sermons preached in Manchester Cathedral on Sunday, September 4, 1887, during the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Bishop of Bedford, and the Bishop of Manchester.