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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/423

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

Editor's Table.

 

ANXIOUS ORTHODOXY.

WE are all familiar with the troubles of the hen that, having hatched duck's eggs, sees with dismay her foster progeny betaking themselves to the water. Very similar, it seems to us, is the distress of mind which ecclesiastical authorities now and then display over the evident determination of the modern world to betake itself to the truths of science rather than to the dogmas of theology. From the ecclesiastical point of view the latter constitute terra firma; the former are nothing but a heaving sea of uncertainty—a treacherous element which threatens to ingulf all who trust themselves to it.

A conspicuous exhibition of this state of mind is furnished by an article in the Church Standard of Philadelphia from the pen of the Right Reverend Hugh Miller Thompson, D. D., LL. D., Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi. "The scientists," it appears from Bishop Thompson's article, have been professing that, in certain cases of hopeless disease, a period should mercifully be put at once to life and to suffering. This is perfectly terrible. It is true Bishop Thompson does not tell us who the scientists are who have made this inhuman proposition; but that is all the better, as the odium can thus be spread evenly over all of them. Neither does he give the exact terms of the proposition; and that again is all the better, as it enables him to expand and vary it at will—to give us such versions of it, for example, as the following: "When a man's father becomes toothless and childish, the son will lovingly give him the happy dispatch, and enter on possession of his estates. When the mother becomes feeble and old, the loving daughter, with her own gentle hands, will drop into the spoon and carry to the lips that kissed her baby face the precious dose that will put the dear old soul out of the way of troubling her longer." In a word, the right reverend bishop has a good time of it banging away at "the scientists" through a four-column article made up almost wholly of just such inconsequent verbiage as we have quoted.

The broad fact which writers of this class all seek to ignore is that it is precisely since science began to be a power in the world that there has been the most notable improvement in the manners and morals of mankind. The bishop tells us that, "if man be a development from the primeval slime, an improved oyster or ape," he fails to see "where there is any room to talk about the sacredness of human life." It seems to us that, far more important than talking about the sacredness of human life, is it to treat human life as sacred; and if the bishop will pretend that there is any comparison between the practice of the present day in this respect and that, say, of the eighteenth, seventeenth, and sixteenth centuries, not to go further back, we shall be very much surprised. What science, or, in other words, the progress of knowledge, does is to give the human mind scope and verge for the exercise of its faculties; and it is this enlarged intellectual activity which leads to the improvement of life in general. If it is impossible to-day to read any history of past ages without shuddering at the butcheries and cruelties