Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/863

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



any troublesome logical process. Nobody in this world, except perhaps some superstitious gambler, ever "enthroned" chance, and even he is imposed upon by words.

One is compelled to ask the question whether the author is as inapt at philosophical reasoning as his book indicates, or whether he has simply put aside his philosophy in order that he may not affright the babes to whom it is his evident purpose to minister. He tells us that it is "a striking inversion of ordinary probabilities" to suppose that the environment can influence the development of organisms; that inanimate nature can "rule, determine, and elevate that which lives and wills." Does not the law of gravitation rule and determine in a very great degree nearly all the phenomena of human life? Does not diet determine the quality of the blood, and the quality or condition of the blood influence thought? Is not civilization largely a matter of climate and general physical conditions? The world might have been much better than it is, we are told, if it had pleased God "to produce a superior race of beings." This is Sir William Dawson's dictum: we know nothing about such matters; all we know is that no race superior to man has been produced; and we are disposed to conclude that man, as he is and has been, stands in definite relation to the condition of things on this planet. That a being of infinite power, who might have done better, should have been content with doing worse, is an idea which we prefer to leave to the contemplation of the author. Another example of what may well be called baby philosophy is where, speaking of the idea that there may be among the organs of the body a certain struggle for existence and pre-eminence, our author declares it to be "revolting to common sense and hideous to right feeling." What has a student of science to do with any idea put forward as scientific except to bring it, if possible, to the test of facts? To us it is no more "revolting" or "hideous" that there should be a struggle for existence going on between the different cells of our body than that the movement of the earth in its orbit should be the resultant of two antagonistic forces, or that our social system should be the result of the competing activities of its individual members. "On this view," says our author, "the mechanism of an animal ceases even to be a machine, and becomes a mere mass of conflicting parts thrown together at random, and depending for its continued existence on a chance balance of external forces." Does the solar system cease to be a machine because it is controlled by the rival laws of gravitation and inertia—because the planets are acted upon at once by a centripetal and centrifugal force? Does the social organism cease to be a machine because its balance is maintained by the self-seeking and mutually-limiting activities of its members? To talk of "a chance balance of external forces" is irrelevant and meaningless. What we know is that there is a balance, that it has endured long enough for the development of an infinite number of organic forms in adaptation to it, and that there is no apparent reason why it should not continue. That is all any one who is determined not to transcend the facts can say. We have not space to examine the more detailed reasonings of the author of this book; but its general philosophic tone may be correctly judged from what precedes. It is not a book that will enhance the reputation of the Canadian scientist.


The meeting of the American Association just held at Indianapolis may be regarded as one of the best of recent years. The attendance was up to a good average in numbers and embraced a good many distinguished names, both among the older and newer generations