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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/132

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

BACK TO DOGMA!

THE Marquis of Salisbury did not adopt the above words as the motto of his recent presidential address to the British Association, but he might have done so, for they fairly sum up the drift and spirit of that able but decidedly reactionary performance, the full text of which will be found in our present number. His lordship, it will be seen, thought it well to remind his hearers of "the condition in which we stand toward three or four of the most important physical questions which it has been the effort of the last century to solve," or, as he also described them, "stupendous problems of natural study which still defy our investigation." It is well to have our attention drawn as often as may be necessary to unsettled problems, provided it be done for the purpose of facilitating and encouraging further effort toward their solution. Whether that was the object which his lordship had in view, or at heart, is rendered a little doubtful by the tenor and particularly by the conclusion of his discourse. lie showed that chemical science has not yet succeeded in explaining the nature and origin of the so-called elementary bodies, of which not less than sixty-five are recognized. He next observed how completely we had also failed to obtain any knowledge of the ether beyond the necessary assumption that it is an undulating medium. Turning to biology, he dwelt upon the fact that, although chemists have succeeded in manufacturing certain substances which had previously only been produced in living bodies, no living organism had ever been produced by human art, nor had the principle of life ever discovered itself to human investigation. Lastly, after a courteous acknowledgment of the services rendered by Darwin to biological science, he reached the point to which all his previous remarks had been tending, proclaimed his personal conviction that the doctrine of natural selection was inadequate to explain the origin of species, and that there was nothing left for us but to fall back on the hypothesis of intelligent and beneficent design as the ruling and guiding principle in the universe.

The end of his lordship's address thus throws light on the beginning. In reality it was an allocution not to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, but to the British public. The British Association did not require to be reminded that the ultimate atom of matter had not yet been discovered, nor that the ether still remained not much more than a working hypothesis, nor that chemical synthesis had not yet compassed the production of a definite living organism. The British public, on the other hand, would find a general declaration of failure on these several lines of research more or less comforting; seeing that, like most other publics in so-called civilized countries, while it is quite prepared to acclaim the results of science when they take the form of cheapened goods or increased conveniences of life, it dearly loves to think that philosophers make blunders and meet with disappointments, and, on the whole, are not so much wiser than other people. Consequently, the communication that was of little value or significance to the learned body to which it was addressed, was of much (misleading) significance to the unlearned body of the public for whom, we can not but believe, it was mainly intended.

In dealing with the doctrine of natural selection his lordship does not seem to us to have been altogether fair. He made as much as possible of the difficul-