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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/574

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of Mr. Morgan's labored argument rests in nubibus: it is very fine, from the special pleader's point of view, but we get no practical results from it.

We have spoken of this article as a note of reaction, and so, most emphatically, it is. The progress made in modern times has consisted very largely in the banishing from our thoughts and calculations of all faith in occult agencies, and in the establishment of the habit of tracing everything that happens to some intelligible, if not always controllable, cause. So long as sprites, goblins, and imps were seriously believed to interfere in human affairs, so long it was impossible to hold men to a strict responsibility for their actions; and when tilings went amiss, no truly scientific inquiry into the causes of the mischance was ever instituted. To say that it was "the act of God" was the easiest way out of the difficulty, and the most satisfactory, certainly, to those upon whom the blame might properly have fallen. But science has been teaching mankind to search out real causes, and to dismiss purely imaginary ones; and just as the disposition to do this has developed, and just as men have been taught that they can not put all their sins of omission and of commission on the shoulders of invisible agencies, have accidents and irregularities of all kinds diminished in number. Mr. Morgan admits this. He says that, up to a very recent date, courts of justice habitually saved time and routine labor by assuming accidents, the causes of which could easily have been arrived at, to be "acts of God." He tells ns that, in a very recent case, while the principle involved in the expression, "the act of God," was recognized by the court, it was held that a shipwreck, in order "to be a veritable act of God, must have occurred in extremely bad weather." We should rather have supposed that the "act of God," if recognizable at all, would have been recognized in the foundering of a ship in calm weather. It was the thunder-clap that he heard from a clear sky that so strongly affected, for a brief period, the not ordinarily very devout mind of the poet Horace; and Mr. Morgan seems so far to agree with that "sparing worshiper of the gods" as to hold that in the case of railway accidents the "act of God" is most visible, not when the conditions are unfavorable, but when, on the contrary, they are highly favorable, save in the one point in which a quasi-supernatural interference is exemplified.

Admit the principle in question at all, however, and we are back in the dark ages; we cease, indeed, to be fit to run railways. It is one thing to bow with resignation to a calamity after it has happened, and quite another to anticipate that calamities will result from the "act of God," and so far make provision for them beforehand. How is the "act of God" to be checked? How are we to prescribe the frequency with which such acts are to be performed? If, in the presence of such acts, we really find ourselves outside of the bounds of human responsibility, why try, by any human means, to guard against their recurrence? We venture to say, however, that no railway accident ever occurred that was not followed by more or less strict inquisition into its cause, and that did not give rise to measures intended to prevent the same thing happening again in the same way. Some of the facts mentioned by Mr. Morgan himself tend to show how little need there is to have recourse to divine intervention to explain the occurrence of any class of railway accidents. He tells us that until within a very few months the strides made by science "seemed to have happily abolished—in the United States—the great railroad disasters of the past." Fifteen or twenty years ago there were a number of frightful accidents, but since that time accidents involving great loss of life have been very infrequent.