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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/295

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291
RELIGION AND SCIENCE.

might be so; it probably was so; but he was not ready to die for it.

The early fathers of the christian church took some one view, some another, of the shape of the earth. St. Augustine tolerated the scientific view, and said at the same time: "What concern is it to me [as a theologian, he meant] whether the heavens as a sphere enclose the earth at the middle of the world, or overhang it on either side?" It was a matter of almost no concern to the Bishop of Hippo at that time, in that place, under those conditions. The mission of the church in the fifth century was to civilize the teeming millions of pagans and barbarians. It was a mighty task. It was performed. It required the entire energy of all churchmen. It was of infinitely small importance, then, whether the barbarians were crowded together on a flat or on a spherical earth. The entire indifference of churchmen, then and later, to purely scientific matters is a fact to be kept in mind.

The theory of a flat earth was enforced from scripture in the sixth century by an Egyptian monk and traveler, Cosmas Indicopleustes. The warfare-of-science books all treat his theory as monkish (because it is wrong). But he was a great traveler and he was reputed scientific in his time. His theory agreed well enough with the simpler facts as he knew them, although it can not stand a moment in face of the facts as they are. Are we to blame him for ignorance? If so, who shall 'scape whipping? Is it a merit of ours that we happen to have been born since 1521, when Magellan's voyage of circumnavigation was completed?

The books in question tickle our vanity with a suggestion that our fortune of birth is somehow a merit. Our children 'know' that the earth is round; that England is an island. How? Because they have been told so. It rests on authority for them. Their elders have a better basis for belief. They know how to prove or to disprove these assertions. But how many of the elders can prove that the earth turns on its axis? It is not an easy matter, and here, in their turn, they rest on authority. How many of my readers can describe Foucault's pendulum experiment off-hand, or explain how a change of gravity with the latitude demonstrates the earth's rotation? Our predecessors in the middle ages rested on the best authority they could attain. Are they to be blamed because our centuries of experience were not behind them?

The implied conclusion of the warfare-books seems to be that our predecessors are to be blamed for lack of open-mindedness to scientific truths. Open-mindedness implies long experience. It is a product of past centuries. Until the centuries are, in fact, past, this virtue can not be evolved; nor can its opposite vice be atrophied except by time.

It is a pertinent fact that in the seventh century Isidore of Seville,