Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/581

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

White's interesting pages we are made to feel the strength of the theological case as it presented itself to the minds of churchmen and devout believers. The Scriptures were divinely inspired: that was the first postulate. The Scriptures stated so and so in express terms, and had been understood and accepted in their plain sense by the greatest doctors and saints of the past, men whose dicta had an authority only less than that of Scripture itself. That was the second half of the argument. Was the authority of Scripture to be impugned and discredited because a few men of no authority, as authority was reckoned in those days, professed to have made this or that discovery in one region or another of physical observation? To let Scripture go was to let everything go, to destroy the whole basis of church authority, the whole foundation of social and moral order; and how to twist Scripture into seeming agreement with the alleged discoveries they had not yet learned. How the intellectual life of Europe was crushed for centuries under the weight of scriptural authority, how the scientific impulse, though a thousand times slain, a thousand times revived, how little by little true views of Nature forced themselves upon a priest-led world, and how in the end Science too gathered to herself authority and made for herself the dominant position which she enjoys to-day—all this, most graphically and sympathetically related, is the burden of the two handsome volumes before us.

There is one point upon which Dr. White has especially labored to be fair. He has not laid, as some winters have been more than half disposed to do, the whole reproach of obstructing and persecuting science upon the Roman Catholic Church. He makes it plain that science, so to speak, had to be persecuted by any body of men who were in the toils of such a theology as that which the early Christian Church formed for itself and bequeathed to later ages; and he shows how the several Protestant churches just in so far as, and so long as, they held to that theology were no less hostile to rising science than the old Church bad been. It would indeed almost seem as if, within the last generation, the Catholic Church had more frankly made its peace with the methods and conclusions of science than the several Protestant churches have done; certainly the most recent examples of opposition to science which are quoted in these volumes are drawn from the proceedings and utterances of Protestant authorities, not of Catholic ones.

It is only right, however, that we should give a more adequate indication than we have yet done of the scope of the present work. The first chapter, which is entitled From Creation to Evolution, deals with the history of opinion on the subject of the origin and development of the physical universe. The crude ideas of ancient times are well represented, the author tells us, by a design which appears in one of the stained-glass windows of the cathedral at Ulm in Würtemberg, where the Almighty appears as busily engaged in the creation of animals, and has just turned off his hands an elephant fully accoutered with armor, harness, and housings, ready for war. In like manner we may still see in the Egyptian temples at Philæ and Denderah representations of the Nile gods modeling lumps of clay into men. "So literal," says our author, "was the whole conception of the work of creation that in these days it can scarcely be imagined. The Almighty was represented in theological literature, in the pictured Bibles, and in works of art generally, as a sort of enlarged and venerable Nuremberg toy maker." The slightest statement of Scripture in