Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/December 1885/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors:

WHEN President White wrote his "New Chapters in the Warfare of Science" he could have had no idea that the same issue of your magazine which contained the first chapter on "The Doctrine of Comets" would also contain a striking illustration by another writer of a similar phase of the same conflict which he has so graphically portrayed.

According to Mr. White, the foolish notions and absurd superstitions which prevailed for so many centuries in regard to comets were due to the irregularity of their movements and the indeterminateness of their orbit. As soon as astronomers had calculated the orbit of a comet and foretold the exact time in which it would appear, "a true doctrine of comets" became possible and was accepted, at least, by the mass of intelligent persons.

Perhaps very few of your readers connected this article on comets with the one on "The Metaphysical Society" in your October number. Yet the passages that I am about to cite will, I think, bear me out in holding that, even among the most intelligent men of the present time, the same kind of ignorance of the phenomena under consideration leads to similar erroneous conclusions.

The very interesting discussion on the "Uniformity of Nature," by such representative men as Dr. Ward, Father Dalgaims, Mr. Ruskin, and the Archbishop of Westminster on the one side, and Professor Huxley, Mr. Bagehot, and Sir James Stephen on the other, at last reaches "no less i weighty a thinker" than Dr. Martineau. After stating forcibly the philosophical reasons which make a belief in the uniformity of nature absolutely necessary, "so far as nature is purely dynamic and so far as force is measured by reason" (p. 817), he yet declines to accept this when man's mental nature is concerned.

"Doubtless," he says, "it will be replied that, as in the mind of man there is a free spring of force which is as yet undetermined, which is potential and not actual force, so there is behind nature a free spring of force which is as yet undetermined, which is potential and not actual nature—in short, a power above nature and capable of modifying it; in other words, supernatural, and that doctrine I should heartily accept. The uniformity of nature is the uniformity of force, just as the uniformity of reasoning is the uniformity of thought. But just as the indeterminateness of creative will stands behind the determinateness of the orbit of force, so the indeterminateness of creative purpose stands behind the determinateness of the orbit of thought or inference. I hold that man is not wholly immersed in dynamic laws, that, though our physical constitution is subject to them, our mental constitution rises above them into a world where free self-determination is possible" (p. 81 7). Have we not here, I ask, another case where "irregularity of movement" and "indeterminateness of the orbit" have produced confusion of thought and caused thinkers to regard as "free" that which, so far as we have any positive knowledge at all, we know to be determined. It would not be difficult to show either that the superstition in regard to "Free Will" has done even more harm than the belief that the appearance of comets betokened evil.

President White's article furnishes such an excellent answer to a pithy question put by Dr. Ward near the close of the debate, that I can not forbear to call attention to it. "Is it not better," he asks, "to have a vulgar belief in God than to have a fine susceptibility to scientific methods?" (p. 819). During the long ages of ignorance and superstition to which Mr. White has called attention there existed what Dr. Ward wants—"a vulgar belief in God," and there was but a very slight "susceptibility to scientific methods." While it can not be said that even now the tendency toward the latter is very strong, or that a vulgar belief in the Deity has disappeared, yet I think it will be generally admitted that there has been some advance toward a recognition of the merits of the scientific method and some alteration in the beliefs about God; and I leave it to any competent and candid person to say which of these times has been the "better" for humanity.

Yours truly,R. M.

October 2, 1885.


Messrs. Editors:

Dr. Barnard's well-timed paper calling attention to the lack of direction of the sympathy of corporation managers with their employés deserves a more general consideration than it will be likely to receive from them. As one directly interested in the labor problem, I wish to thank him for calling popular attention to the nearest way to mitigate some of the asperities of the situation, and for his efforts as Secretary of the Baltimore and Ohio Employés Relief Association.

Speaking from a close association with the class of labor he seeks to benefit, it is my belief that both it and the spirit of our people resent a "paternal care and solicitude" while welcoming a "friendly interest," and perhaps even a "guardian's care."

Some of the members of his Association have characterized it as "too paternal," and though it has done and is doing great good, not only for the Baltimore and Ohio employés but among employés generally, as an example of what can be accomplished, it is well to remember that "compulsory provision for their future welfare" excites opposition, and does not educate his "wards" as would a more friendly help.

This is indicated by the Pullman experiment, of which the popular judgment is: that it is not approved by the employés, and is not so successful as to deserve imitation by employers.

G. C. Hewett.
Winifrede, West Virginia,
September 16, 1885.