THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|SCIENCE AND SOCIAL PROGRESS|
By FREDERICK A. BUSHEE, Ph.D.
SCIENCE is usually defined as a classified body of knowledge; but this definition implies a completeness in our knowledge which the present discussion can not assume. In considering the effects of science on social progress, it will be necessary to go back of the advanced stage of scientific thought and take account of positive knowledge in its beginnings, before it assumed the classified form. Science as here used, therefore, refers to the spirit of investigating phenomena, or studying facts, as over against the spirit of mere speculation and of superstitious belief. The growth of science represents not merely a new spirit or state of mind in society, but it presents an explanation of the universe based on intelligence and reason instead of the emotions.
The consequences of the growth of positive knowledge are so complicated and far-reaching that it is impossible to follow them in all their ramifications. Only their more general effects can be indicated. The difference between knowledge and ignorance seems at first to be sufficient to account for the entire difference between progress and stagnation; but such is not the case, for certain kinds of progress, such as those which result from selection, take place independently of science. The effects of scientific knowledge are of two kinds, those which influence the mind and those which affect the environment. The first effect of science is to expand the mental horizon, giving us broader conceptions and a more active mental life. This is especially true of astronomy, which tends to bring us out of ourselves by giving us enlarged ideas of space and time and by revealing something of the process of the creation of worlds; but the same thing is true of other sciences which reveal the phenomena of matter in our own world and teach the wonderful laws of life.
A second result of science, which has been emphasized by Fiske, is that it gives man a conception of law, an understanding of true cause and effect. This not only helps to develop man's mind, but it has an immediate effect upon his conduct, removing it from the influence of superstition to the domain of reason. When man learns to separate real cause and effect from the mere sequence of events, he can adapt himself to external influences and avoid much suffering. He learns
- "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," Part II., Ch. XXI.; reprinted in Carver's "Sociology and Social Progress," p. 478.