Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/861

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.




SIR WILLIAM DAWSON, the well-known Canadian geologist, has brought out, under the auspices of the Religious Tract Society of London, England, a work entitled Modern Ideas of Evolution as related to Revelation and Science. The title of the book, we must say at the outset, seems to us a little peculiar. Any idea of evolution (as the term is now understood) must, if considered at all, be considered in relation to science; but how to consider it in relation to revelation is not, to our mind, easy to understand. How are ideas of evolution to be brought into direct relation with revelation as a substantive fact? If revelation is a substantive, self-evident fact, then there is no use in bringing any ideas of evolution into comparison with it. The Arab leader who burned the library at Alexandria did not want to compare any of the books contained therein with the Koran, but summarily said: "They either agree with the Koran or disagree with it. If they agree with it, they are superfluous; if they disagree with it, they are noxious: in either case burn them." In like manner, no one who reads the laws of nature in the blaze of an all-sufficient revelation will want any other light. Had Sir William spoken in the title of his book of bringing "ideas of evolution" into relation with "ideas of revelation," the proposition would have appeared a more hopeful one, and would have contained a certain suggestion of fair play; but to bring mere "ideas" on the one side into direct contact with the most absolute and commanding reality on the other, seems—well, not quite the right thing to do. Give the "ideas of evolution" a chance; let there be something to "umpire."

Sir William Dawson has written this book for a select circle of readers—a wide one possibly, but select nevertheless—readers who appreciate such a description of Darwin as the following: "Darwin, as he sits in marble on the staircase of the British Museum, represents a noble figure, made in the image of God, and capable of grasping mentally the heaven above as well as the earth beneath. As he appears in his recent biography, we see the same man paralyzed by a spiritual atrophy, blinded and shut up in prison and chained to the mill of a materialistic philosophy where, like a captive Samson, he is doomed to grind all that is fair and beautiful in nature into a dry and formless dust." It is needless to say that a reader at all accustomed to scientific method would wish to know exactly what is meant by ability to "grasp mentally the heaven above as well as the earth beneath." Darwin, it seems to be admitted, grasped the earth beneath: in order to grasp the heaven above—interpreting the words in a natural sense—he would have had to be an astronomer in addition to being a great biologist and naturalist. The writer, however, does not use the words in their natural sense: by the "heaven above" he means some supernatural order of facts; but could he, as a scientific man, tell us of any one who to his positive knowledge had "grasped the heaven above" in that sense? When Darwin grasped the earth beneath he could tell us what he grasped, and the world is vastly the richer to-day for the positive knowledge imparted by him in regard to terrestrial facts. But could Sir William Dawson himself enrich the world by imparting what he has grasped of "the heaven above"? What does he know about it that he can communicate in distinct speech? If he has any such information, it would vastly surpass in interest anything he can tell us about