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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/572

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

SCIENCE AND WEALTH.

IT is admitted on all hands that the rôle of science in the modern world has been a splendid and beneficent one, and that if our present civilization differs for the better in many important respects from that of any preceding age the fact is mainly due to progress in scientific knowledge. The world had greater poets in past times than any it can boast to-day—at least this is generally assumed—and greater artists and greater metaphysicians; but who would wish to go back to the age of Shakespeare, or that of Dante, or that of Phidias and Plato? We all prefer a world in which an extensive knowledge of natural law prevails, in which natural forces have been bent, as we see them bent to-day, to human uses, and in which man has decisively gained the victory over the principal destructive agencies which once were a constantly recurring menace to his life and happiness. The basis, the firm foundation, of this civilization, which, in spite of any drawbacks attaching to it, we all prize so highly, is knowledge—sifted, verified, definitely acquired knowledge of the laws of nature. The adjustments of modern life are dependent in the most absolute manner on the facilities which scientific discovery has furnished for the production and interchange of commodities and for communication between individuals. And just as knowledge advances does society as a whole assume toward its component units more and more the character of an earthly Providence. Comte spoke of it in this character fifty years ago, and, with every passing year, the term becomes more and more appropriate. "Society," says Prof. Toy, in a recent article in the International Journal of Ethics, "has come to be an efficient moral guide and support. It has worked out great ideals which have become the heritage of a small but controlling section of the race. It offers great rewards for well-doing, and inflicts terrible punishment for ill-doing. The individual is not a moral orphan in the world; society stands to him in the place of a parent, with all of a parent's power and none of a parent's weaknesses." Society, we may add, aided by science, is every day improving and beautifying the environment into which the individual is born, every day surrounding his life with new safeguards, every day bringing within his reach wider ranges of thought and increased means of enjoyment.

All this hardly admits of question; or, if a question were raised, it would probably be not as to the existence of such a general movement as we have described, but as to whether a certain section of society is not more or less cut off from its benefits. That question doubtless deserves discussion, but we are not concerned with it to-day. What we wish to point out is that, in spite of the vast benefits which natural science is daily conferring on the world, the attitude of many of its principal beneficiaries is not a friendly one. We have heard an amusing but altogether authentic tale of a very wealthy and pious lady who cautioned a friend not to have anything to do with "Christian science," not because it was a system of quackery and delusion, but because it had the word "science" in its designation. "I confess, dear," she said most earnestly, "I don't like that word ' science.'" Can such things be, amid the blaze of nineteenth-century enlightenment? Yes, they can be and are. Not often, perhaps, do we hear the naïve confession, "I don't like that word science"; but proofs abound that multi-