Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/427

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

Editor's Table.

 

SCIENCE AND ITS CRITICS.

IT is somewhat difficult to account for the attitude which a number of able men take toward science, an attitude of grudging recognition, of carping criticism, and too often of sarcastic misrepresentation. In England Carlyle and Ruskin have been the leading representatives of this phase of thought, if such it can be called; in France we have M. Brunetière and his school; in Russia, Tolstoi. The latter has lately republished in a Russian periodical a brochure by Edward Carpenter, the English title of which we at this moment forget, but the object of which is to show the abstract and unpractical nature of science; and to this he has prefixed a preface in which, following the English author, he gives science a very severe hauling over the coals.

What is it all about? What has science done to these gentlemen that they look upon it with so evil an eye? Do they dine less agreeably because science has discovered some of the laws which underlie good cookery? Are they angry with science because it has diminished disease and appreciably improved the expectation of life of each of them? Are they out of humor with it because it has done so much by anæsthetics and antiseptics to relieve human suffering? Is their grievance that a certain rational order has been introduced into our conceptions of the universe, so that, while we are still profoundly ignorant of many things, our ideas, so far as they go, have a certain harmony and coherence? If one only knew just how and where science had trodden on the corns of these very able writers, it would perhaps be possible to understand their attitude; but, as it is, in their deadly determination to find fault with science, they remind us very much of the wolf that had so heavy a bill of indictment against the lamb. The parallel stops here; the grumblings of the wolf were the necessary diplomatic prelude to the devouring of the lamb; but these gentlemen can not devour science. They grumble, and they grumble, but science goes on its way: nulla vestigia retrorsum.

Let us, however, examine the terms in which the great Russian author formulates his complaint:

"The strong, sensible laborer supposes that men who study, and are supported by his labor, shall be able to tell him where to find happiness. Science should teach him how to live, how to act toward friends and relatives, how to control instincts and desires that arise within him, how and what to believe. Instead of telling him these things, science talks about distances in the heavens, microbes, vibrations of ether, and X rays. The laborer is dissatisfied. He insists on knowing how to live. . . . The essential thing is the total view of life, its meaning and aims. Science can not rise to that view, religion alone can do so. . . . Science is constantly pointing to its victories over the forces of Nature, to electricity, machinery, and the like; but sensible men see not those things, they see only the misery, suffering, degradation, and hardships to which so many are subjected, and the little prospect of relief that is in sight. Were our men of science to teach men more about religious, moral, and social truths, we should not see the hundredth part of suffering and hardship which are now seen on every side."