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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/566

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

much if any part in the sessions. The meeting next year will be in South Africa under the presidency of Professor George H. Darwin, who holds the chair of astronomy at Cambridge.

 

THE ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT.

It is as long as forty-two years since the association last met at Cambridge. There was a meeting at Oxford ten years ago after an interval of thirtyfour years. The association was organized at York, in 1831, and held its second meeting at Oxford and its third meeting at Cambridge. It met again at Oxford in 1847 and 1860 and at Cambridge in 1845 and 1862. Some of the more conservative elements at the great universities have apparently not altogether welcomed the influx of visitors brought together by the diverse attractions of a meeting of the association. But if the meetings at the seats of the universities have not been frequent, they have tended to be of rather more than usual interest. The very contrast between the conservative and somewhat aristocratic attitude of the universities and the more radical and democratic aspects of the association have given an element of dramatic interest. Thus the Oxford meeting of 1860 is remembered for the invasion of the Darwinian theory. Bishop Wilberforce had been attacking the then infant theory in a superficial and rhetorical manner and is alleged to have turned to Huxley and asked him whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley, after stating the case for evolution, said that a man has no reason to be ashamed (if having descended from an ape, but that he would be ashamed to be related to a man who used his ability and position to obscure the truth. No wonder that it was thirty-four years before the association was again invited to meet at the home of 'lost causes and impossible loyalties,' nor is it surprising that it should then have been presided over by a great statesman, who once more attempted to discredit evolution and the Darwinian theory.

Now after ten years the association meets at the sister university, and is presided over by the nephew and successor as head of the British government of the president of the Oxford meeting. It is a strange sight as

viewed from this land of magnificent levels. Mr. Balfour has character and abilities as notable and an intellect even more acute than had Lord Salisbury; there is a curious similarity in the attitude of the two men toward science, but at the same time an obvious forward movement in the authority of science when we pass from Oxford to Cambridge, from the older to the younger generation.

Lord Salisbury told his audience bluntly that he would make a survey 'not of our science but of our ignorance' and instanced atoms, the ether and the origin of life. He rejected natural selection and ended by appealing to the intelligent and benevolent, design of an everlasting creator and ruler. Mr. Balfour is too acute a thinker to set natural selection and design in opposition to one another. He, indeed, takes natural selection for granted and uses it to discredit the possibility of knowledge. He tells us that natural selection working through utility could only give us the senses needed 'to fight, to eat and to bring up children,' not the intellect required to understand physical reality. The more successful we are in explaining the origin of our beliefs 'the more doubt we cast on their validity.' Mr. Balfour, however, is ready to sanction the newest theories of physical metaphysics, saying that down to five years ago 'our race has. without exception, lived and died in a world of illusions'; now apparently Mr. Balfour and a handful of physicists live in a real world of ether and electrical monads. But perhaps Mr. Balfour is a hit ironical, and is