Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/November 1885/Editor's Table



WE have frequently maintained in these columns that a new type of culture is arising in modern times, which is not only strongly contrasted with the old ideal, but is, iu essential respects, superior to it. This superiority is an inevitable result of the general laws of mental development by which successive ages become familiar with new orders of ideas. The progress of science is undoubtedly too much looked upon as having to do with the physical world only, as affecting useful arts, inventions, industrial processes, and the accumulation of wealth, but as leaving all the higher and nobler interests of mankind untouched. This is a narrow and erroneous view—the view of those who really do not know what science is accomplishing, nor how far-reaching and all-pervasive its results are destined to be. For it is one of the transcendent victories of science to have shown that the universe is bound together in all its parts by the most vital connections and a supreme unity, which make it impossible that there should be any great revelation respecting its fundamental order that does not throw light through all its departments. It may seem to certain minds a matter of no great moment that the physical and material sciences have come into existence, as they are assumed by such minds to belong to a lower sphere or grade of being, "the mere material," and to leave unaffected the loftier sphere of human nature, represented by the spiritual life. But this partial and partisan view must disappear when it is thoroughly realized that science itself belongs to this higher sphere, and that man is exalted by it through the acquisition of new truth and of grander ideas than he had before science appeared. The progress of science is a progress of thought, and the new and greater ideas thus acquired are certain to become the new instruments of a new culture.

This view was pointedly presented by Professor Cooke, of Harvard College, in his recent book on "Scientific Culture," in the following words: "What is it that ennobles literary culture but the great minds which, through this culture, have honored the nations to which they belong? The culture we have chosen is capable of even greater things; not because science is nobler than art, for both are equally noble—it is the thought, the conception, which ennobles, and I care not whether it be attained through one kind of exercise or another—but we are capable of grander and nobler thoughts than Plato, Cicero, Shakespeare, or Newton, because we live in a later period of the world's history, when through science the world has become richer in great ideas. It is, I repeat, the great thought which ennobles, and it ennobles because it raises to a higher plane that which is immortal in our manhood."

It is no longer possible to deny that science as the latest is also the highest and most perfect product of the mind of man. We can no more ignore or discredit the mental growth of the race than the mental growth of the individual, and in neither case can childhood or youth yield the results of maturity. The literary ideal of culture, which embodies itself chiefly in the various arts of expression, was realized early and in the immaturity of human thought. Rude science, of course, also began early, but it did not become a method of cultivating the mind until thousands of years had passed. The work of science, as we now know it, is far too difficult and too grand to have been accomplished in the early or middle stages of human development. It now represents profounder study, more intense intellectual exertion, and a higher discipline of the mental faculties than was possible until mankind had had a long and painful experience in the difficult task of explaining the mysteries of Nature. By the necessities of the law of unfolding, therefore, the higher exploits of modern thought are not to be limited and measured by ancient standards. The ideal of literary culture belongs to an older and, consequently, to a lower stage of progress, and it can not continue to hold in this age the unrivaled ascendency which has been accorded to it in the past. Science represents an independent movement of the human mind, and creates standards of its own. It can not be judged, and is not to be ranked, by those who have been cultivated in a totally different order of ideas. To the linguists, as such, and to the cultivators of literature, as such, the understanding of the course of Nature is nothing. They could go on forever with their elegant arts in utter ignorance of it, and without missing it. The study of Nature, in a methodical way, was a new mental dispensation. The quest of truth by the methods that yield the truth, and because of the value of truth, was a new ideal, and the preparation for it a new education. Under the old ideal of culture truth was, in fact, disavowed as a supreme intellectual aim. The philosophers loved to seek it, but proclaimed that they did not care to find it; and there are still an emptiness, a hollowness, and a conventionality in the ideal of literary and scholastic culture, which betray its mediæval origin. With the coming of science as a method of thought, there came a profounder seriousness in the purposes of study, which could never have been originated in the purely literary sphere.

With the coming of science, the thinker was forced to take a new relation to the world in which he lived, He became a devotee of truth in a sense not before known, and subjected himself to a moral as well as to an intellectual discipline, of which little could be understood in the earlier stages of mental cultivation.

The literary ideal of culture is still practically supreme. It is historic, it is fortified by institutions, it reigns in education, it is a social passport, it is suited for display, and makes a minimum requisition of intellectual effort. For these reasons it is popular, and we need not wonder at the arrogance and exclusiveness of its pretensions. But it belongs to the past, is losing its hold upon the present; and, while it may never be superseded, it is yet bound to be subordinated in future to that ideal of mental culture which is the highest intellectual attainment of the latest time, and which is to be perfected through the light of that scientific knowledge into which the human mind has emerged in this wonderful period. The triumphs of intellect in the conquest of Nature and the acquisition of great ideas in the understanding of the universe are not to be without powerful influence in determining the cultivation of the educated classes. The emancipation from narrow and groveling traditions may take place slowly, but the change is going on, and must go on, by the law of progress, until the newer and nobler knowledges become the highest instruments of mental cultivation.


Mr. St. George Mivart, the eminent naturalist, who is well known as an earnest member of the Roman Catholic Church, discusses in a recent number of the "Nineteenth Century" the question as to the degree of liberty which modern Catholics may claim in the treatment of scientific subjects. His conclusion is that their liberty in the matter is practically unbounded. The reason he gives will seem to some a little singular, and may possibly cause more or less wincing in certain quarters; but Mr. Mivart urges it with great confidence and apparently with great sincerity. Briefly stated, it is this: that the highest authorities of the Church were so egregiously, so ostentatiously, and so gratuitously wrong in the matter of Galileo and the earth's motion round the sun, that no absolute authority can ever attach to similar denunciations of scientific doctrines in future. Mr. Mivart brushes aside the reasonings by which it has been attempted to show that Galileo's condemnation was not formal. He insists that it was as formal and emphatic as it was in the power of the spiritual authorities of that day to make it; and yet, for all that, the persecuted man of science was in the right and his ecclesiastical judges were in the wrong. He says that it was. a most fortunate blunder that they committed, seeing that it sets Catholics free for evermore to think for themselves upon all scientific matters, without exception or reserve of any kind. As we remarked above, some may not quite like the manner in which Mr. Mivart sets about proving his thesis; but his argument would be a difficult one to controvert. Authorities who have once blundered about as badly as it has ever been given to human beings to blunder, can hardly come forward again as supreme arbiters in a question of science; and, should they so come forward, even loyal sons of the Church might decline to submit to their decisions.

Mr. Mivart refers to an article contributed by an eminent Catholic theologian, Dr. Barry, about a year ago, to the "Dublin Review." On turning to it, we find the reverend doctor, to our great satisfaction, recognizing in the amplest manner the pre-eminent position occupied by science in the modern world, and claiming the largest degree of liberty for the scientific investigator. "Facts," he observes, "are as unassailable in their way as first principles; nor can the exigencies of reality be set aside, unless we would give the men of physical science leave to disown the necessities of thought?" He quotes "a metaphysician of high authority at Rome, Father Palmieri," as remarking that "one of the greatest calamities of the last three centuries has been the neglect of the study of physical science by orthodox Christians." It is needless to say that we find ourselves heartily in accord with the reverend father in this declaration. Had there been more study of physical science among orthodox Christians during the last three centuries, the cholera would not have carried off eighty thousand persons in Spain this year, nor would the comparatively small city of Montreal in Canada have had to bury small-pox victims this summer at the rate of two hundred a week. The reverend father holds that the Church is now reaping the reward of its disdain of science, in its loss of influence over large classes that once were embraced in its obedience. All this. Dr. Barry says, must be remedied. "Science is the common ground" on which the Church can meet its adversaries, and there it must meet them." It is our duty to proclaim that we are not afraid of any argument or any assemblage of facts; but that we insist on giving its weight to every part of the evidence." Of course, the learned doctor, The the valiant fighter that he seems to be, hopes to overcome his adversaries. With that we are not concerned: what we note with pleasure is, that such strong ground should be taken up by eminent theologians of the most conservative communion in Christendom, in favor of a bold and thorough exploration of the scientific field. In so far as they approach modern scientific theories in a critical spirit, they will do only good, and may, if they come with the requisite preparation, do a great deal of good. Neither Science nor Philosophy has yet spoken its last word; and all true men of science will be thankful for any help they may get toward throwing aside their errors and rising to fuller and clearer perceptions of the truth.


We print the first portion of Sir Lyon Playfair's recent inaugural address as President of the British Association. It is unconscionably long, so that we must postpone to next month his concluding sections on "Science and Industry," and "Abstract Science the Condition of Progress." Sir Lyon follows the precedents of his predecessors in discussing what he knows most about, for he is probably the most prominent and experienced scientific office-holder and engineer of state science generally that is to be found in the British Empire. He was early taken into the royal family, and has ever since been on intimate relations with those upper classes which constitute the governing power of England, and this fact is not without its bearing on his discussion of "Science and Secondary Education."

Of course, he is driven upon the question of science and the classics, and must recognize, as does all the world, that science is scandalously neglected in leading British schools, while excessive attention is given to classical studies. This educational issue in England is intricately involved with the English social system. Classics and science is a question of classes: science is for the lower classes, classics for the higher classes. A succession of parliamentary commissions has deplored the neglect of science in the great endowed schools, but with very little effect. The Duke of Devonshire was compelled to report, in 1873, "considering the increasing importance of science to the material interests of the country, we can not but regard its almost total exclusion from the training of the upper and middle classes as little less than a national misfortune." But why should the middle-class schools be hero ranked with the upper-class schools? Because they imitate them. Dr. Playfair says, "Unfortunately, the other grammar-schools which educate the middle classes look to the higher public schools as a type to which they should conform." But the upper-class schools are places where science is despised and the classics worshiped. Sir Lyon Playfair, although professedly representing science, is not the man to condemn a settled upper-class English policy. He virtually gives up the contest in saying, "The great public schools of England will continue to be the gymnasia for the upper classes, and should devote much of their time to classical and literary culture." What is this but yielding everything, and reducing the whole movement for a higher scientific education to a farce? If classics are the superior mental pabulum of aristocrats and gentlemen, and science only suited for plebeians, then is the English resistance to scientific education right, as it would be a degradation and a step backward toward barbarism. The affiliations of classics and aristocracy are old and intimate, and still profoundly cherished in countries like England and Germany; but when eminent scientists like Hoffman and Playfair avail themselves of great occasions to indorse them to the damage of science, we say, deliver us from our nominal friends.