Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/861

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
843
EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

SCIENCE AND NESCIENCE.

IT is a very long-time since the discovery was first made that the processes of human thought are only valid within limits; and it might be supposed that all the consequences which could properly be deduced from that fact had long ago been drawn and reduced to their true value. Yet every now and again it seems to strike some thinker with new force that the human mind is not all-comprehending; and it is a singular thing that, when this happens, we are nearly always asked to take back some view or doctrine which we had previously discarded, or at least laid aside, as destitute of proof and not in harmony with the general body of our knowledge. In other words, because we can not understand or measure everything, we must consider that there is a door perpetually open into some fourth dimension, as it were, through which may freely enter beliefs of the most fantastic kind, and such as, judged by the laws of our own familiar three dimensions, we should utterly refuse to accept. No other than this is the lesson which Mr. Balfour attempts to teach in his much-discussed work, The Foundations of Belief. He proves, most unnecessarily, that science can not reach the absolute origin of things, and that, when we get back to such ultimate conceptions of matter and force as we are capable of forming, we do not discover those finished products of human evolution, moral authority and the sense of beauty. His work is described on the title-page as being "introductory to the study of theology," and the author makes it plain that what he would have us do is, on the ground of the insufficiency of human reason, to accept a system of theology, preferably the Christian, which, while carrying us back to the origin of all things, will provide a basis for those moral beliefs and sentiments which are essential at once to the dignity of the individual and the cohesion of society, but which science, as he holds, can neither explain nor justify.

Now, we have no objection whatever to Mr. Balfour's conclusion that people should cherish some form of religious belief, but we think he is ill advised in trying to prove that, because science is weak, theology (his theology) is probably strong. Whatever weakness attaches to science attaches to it by virtue of the limitations of the human mind, which, as Matthew Arnold says,

"A thousand glimpses wins,
But never sees the whole."

Science, as we have often said in effect, is simply the product of the striving of the mind after 1 exact knowledge; and by exact knowledge we mean knowledge brought more and more into conformity with the totality of human perceptions. If Mr. Balfour could convict science of using illegitimate processes or of endeavoring to stereotype unverified or imperfectly verified doctrines, he might very properly bid us look elsewhere for guidance; but this he nowhere does. He is well aware that civilization is rich to-day with the garnered results of a score of separate sciences, and that men are coming and going and living their lives in a well-grounded assurance that, in the main, what science teaches as true is true, and that work done on scientific principles will stand.