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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JANUARY, 1891.


 

NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

XI. FROM BABEL TO COMPARATIVE PHILOLOGY.

By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL. D., L. H. D.,

EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.

PART I.

AMONG the sciences which have served as entering wedges into the heavy mass of ecclesiastical orthodoxy, to cleave it, disintegrate it, and let the light of Christianity into it, none perhaps has done a more striking work than Comparative Philology. In one very important respect the history of this science differs from that of any other; for it is the only one whose results theologians have at last fully adopted as the result of their own studies. This adoption teaches a great lesson, since, while it has destroyed theological views cherished during many centuries, and obliged the Church to accept conclusions directly contrary to the plain letter of our sacred books, the result is clearly seen to have helped Christianity rather than to have hurt it. It has certainly done much to clear our religious foundations of the dogmatic rust which was eating into their structure.

How this result was reached, and why the Church has so fully accepted it, I shall endeavor to show in the present chapter.

In the very beginnings of recorded history we find explanations of the diversity of tongues, and naturally such explanations resort to supernatural intervention. The "law of wills and causes," formulated by Comte, is exemplified here as in so many other cases. That law is, that when men do not know the natural causes of things, they simply attribute them to wills like their own; thus they obtain a theory which provisionally takes the place of science, and this theory is very generally theological.

Examples of this recur to any thinking reader of history.