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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/713

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

OUR readers have had the opportunity of following, in the interesting articles contributed to this periodical by Dr. Andrew D. White, the marvelous history of the struggle which science from its birth has had to wage with the forces of intellectual obstruction. The great foe to science, it is not too much to say, has been theology. To say this is not to cast doubt on the possibility of a true theology; it is merely to affirm that, in point of fact, the particular theologies that have heretofore occupied the ground have one and all felt themselves threatened by science, and have set themselves to resist its advance by every means in their power. We see no reason why this fact should not be frankly recognized. In the natural course of things theology deals in imaginative fashion with questions of origin and development; and until exact knowledge begins to prevail the notions thus established serve a more or less useful purpose. As knowledge grows, these conceptions are found to be faulty; but theology resists any change—in the first place, from a general conservative instinct, and, in the second, because the cause of moral and social order seems to be more or less involved with the primitive cosmogony. But when once man has begun to observe, to compare, to verify, and to record, he has laid a foundation that can not be shaken, he has sown a ferment that must grow and spread till it has leavened the whole of human thought. Systems founded upon imagination must yield to those produced by the use of the reasoning faculty. They were no better than guesses at the first; and if they furnish an adumbration, however vague, of the truth, it is almost more than we have any right

to expect. Reason itself errs in many of its constructions, but it faces the light, and year by year and age by age it is able to perfect its work.

We fail, therefore, to see why any of our religious contemporaries should take in evil part the really instructive treatment which Dr. White has given to this subject of the perfecting of science through opposition and conflict. They really need not feel too bad about it. In a certain way it was good for science, just as it was for the Psalmist, to be afflicted. The natural reluctance which men of science felt to find themselves at variance with established beliefs, armed with the power of persecution, led them to scan their theories very carefully before giving them to the world. Moreover, the very difficulties of the situation drew out much heroism of character, and made science more conscious than it would otherwise have been of its moral and intellectual mission. Whether in these comparatively peaceful times the work of science is done in as high and noble a spirit as formerly is perhaps open to question.

The lesson which nearly all sensible men draw from the history of science is simply this, that the enlightened reason of man is the only interpreter of Nature's laws, and that physical theories handed down from remote antiquity have simply no claim whatever upon our acceptance in the present day. It matters not whether a misapplied ingenuity can find in them some distant resemblance to known facts, any more than it matters, when a weather prophet guesses at the weather, how near the mark or how wide of it his guess may fall. In the present day we have done with guessing in matters scientific. We may frame hypotheses, but, if so, their des-