Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/624

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
604
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

but two per cent of the population, and that even this accommodation was more than was needed. This fact is not due to the want of a deep religious spirit among the North Germans: no one who has lived among them can doubt the existence of such a spirit; but it is due mainly to the fact that, while the simple results of scientific investigation have filtered down among the people at large, the dominant party in the Lutheran Church has steadily refused to recognize this fact, and has persisted in imposing on Scripture the fetters of literal and dogmatic interpretation which Germany has largely outgrown.[1] A similar danger threatens every other country in which the clergy pursue a similar policy. No thinking man, whatever may be his religious views, can fail to regret this. A thoughtful, reverent, enlightened clergy is a great blessing to any country; and anything which undermines their legitimate work of leading men out of the worship of material things to the consideration of that which is higher, is a vast misfortune.

But, before concluding this part of the subject, it may be instructive to note a few special attempts at truces or compromises, such as always appear when the victory of any science becomes sure. Typical among the latest of these may be mentioned the attempt of Carl von Raumer in 1819. With much pretension to scientific knowledge, but with aspirations bounded by the limits of Prussian orthodoxy, he made a labored attempt to produce a statement which, by its vagueness, haziness, and "depth," should obscure the real questions at issue. This statement appeared in the shape of an argument, used by Bertrand and others in the previous century, to prove that fossil remains of plants in the coal-measures had never existed as living plants, but had been simply a "result of the development of imperfect plant embryos"; and the same misty theory was suggested to explain the existence of fossil animals without supposing the epochs and changes required by geological science.

In 1837 Wagner sought to uphold this explanation; but it was so clearly a mere hollow phrase, unable to bear the weight of the facts to be accounted for, that it was soon given up.

Similar attempts were made throughout Europe, the most noteworthy appearing in England. In 1853 was issued an anonymous work, having as its title "A Brief and Complete Refutation of the Anti-Scriptural Theory of Geologists": the author reviewed an old idea, but put a spark of life into it—this idea being that "all the organisms found in the depths of the earth were made on the first of the six creative days, as models for the plants and animals to be created on the third, fifth, and sixth days."[2]

  1. For these statements regarding Germany the writer relies on his personal observation as a student at the University of Berlin in 1856, as a traveler at various periods afterward, and as Minister of the United States in 1879, 1880, and 1881.
  2. See Zöckler, vol. ii, p. 475.