Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/November 1887/Editor's Table



NO journal has upheld more steadily than "The Popular Science Monthly" the principle that, as fast as they are established, the truths of science shall be applied to useful purposes, and, through popular education, be made as widely available as possible for the general guidance of life. And yet we can not look with favor upon what many persons doubtless regard as a very signal and happy example of the utilization of scientific conclusions—we mean the authoritative and dogmatic teaching as to the effects of alcohol, now provided for by the school laws of many States. It is only right, therefore, that we should assign our reasons for holding that this is not a case of the legitimate application of scientific truths to practical life.

In the first place, it is an abuse of power on the part of the majority. In the "temperance" controversy as a distinct social issue we have no wish to interfere; but we can not ignore the fact that there is such a controversy, nor can we consent to believe, with the advocates of prohibitory legislation, that their opponents are necessarily persons devoid of all high motives, and hardly to be distinguished from the criminal population. But if a minority in the State is to be respected so long as it is law-abiding, its opinions are also to be respected; and to seize hold of the school-machinery of the State to inculcate opinions that are not accepted by the minority, and that tend to set the minority in a very unfavorable light, is not right or just. If every triumphant party were to seize the public schools for the inculcation of doctrines favorable to its own party interests, there would soon be an end of our public-school system. It would always be easy to invoke the name of science. If it were desired to rear a race of protectionists, it would only be necessary to claim that you were teaching the truths of political economy. The proper text-books would be prepared, and teachers, on pain of dismissal, would have to enunciate the doctrines of Henry C, Carey and Horace Greeley. And so in the days of slavery the science of ethnology might have been invoked either on the side of abolition or in defense of the slave system, according to the leaning of the majority. At this moment we have the president of a New England college recommending the majority in the several States to use their power to enforce the teaching of certain specific views of New Testament history which he is pleased to declare all competent critics have accepted.

"But," say the advocates of the teaching to which we refer, "we only wish to inculcate the real results of scientific research in regard to alcohol." To which we rejoin that, in a community like this, it is too soon to inculcate the truth, supposing you have it, if the issue is still practically open, and if large numbers of your fellow-citizens are not persuaded that what you call the truth is the truth. Minorities have their rights even when they are in the wrong, and to use a school system which the minority support to teach opinions which the latter do not believe to be true is unfair.

But there is another view of the matter. Are the advocates of such instruction prepared to have it communicated in a thoroughly non-partisan spirit? Are they prepared to have the whole truth taught, or do they want only that part of the truth which is favorable to the specific end they have in view? Are they prepared, for example, to give any fair representation to the views of those who consider that alcohol has its important uses, dietetic and social? A few years ago the "Contemporary Review" opened its columns to a discussion of the alcohol question; and we are safe in saying that there was a preponderance of opinion among the many eminent men who joined in the discussion, in favor of a moderate use of alcoholic beverages. In the August number of the "North American Review" a well known physician of this city enters a plea against the indiscriminate condemnation of narcotics and stimulants. Is all this opinion to go unrepresented when the alcohol question is introduced into the schools? Of course it must, or the specific object of the teaching would be ruined. We say, therefore, that this is not teaching science; it is harnessing science to the "temperance" cart, and driving her under instructions from "temperance" headquarters.

We need not, however, confine ourselves to general speculations as to what is likely to happen when science is made subservient to the propagation of special views, for we have an example—and a striking one—of what does happen in such a case. In a recent number of the "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," Dr. Joseph W. Warren, assistant in physiology in the Medical School of Harvard University, gives an account of a pamphlet on the subject of "Alcoholic Liquids as Therapeutic Agents," issued by the Women's Temperance Publication Association of Chicago. This pamphlet, it is true, consists of a chapter from a larger work on the "Principles and Practice of Medicine"; but the chapter in question was selected for use as a tract because it states the case against alcohol with all the exaggeration and suppression needed for party purposes. Dr. Warren describes it as "full of error and misstatement concerning the physiological action of alcohol," while "the therapeutic inferences drawn therefrom are, to say the least, most doubtful." One example will suffice to show to what extent—if we may trust Dr. Warren, who writes with a very full command of his subject—the truth has been economized in the pamphlet in question. The author, after stating that "the experimental researches of Lallemand. Perrin, and Duroy proved conclusively that alcohol was eliminated as alcohol, unchanged chemically, from the lungs, skin, and kidneys," adds that these experiments have been confirmed, except that it is claimed that "the amount eliminated is not equal to the whole quantity taken." "Surely," says Dr. Warren, "no beginner would infer from the last quotation that every competent investigator had found the amount eliminated, not only not equal to the whole quantity taken, but really to form only a small fraction of it; yet such is actually the case." We have not space to follow Dr. Warren in his very thorough examination of this anti-alcohol manifesto; but we very heartily concur with him in some of his concluding remarks. "There are times," he says, "when it may be well not to tell the whole truth; but I have yet to learn how the human race can be benefited, in the long run, by systematic deception, and by the wholesale circulation of what is, to say the least, not true." Again: "The temperance movement of the future will have to recognize that the field for its activity lies not in the dissemination of falsehood about what alcohol is and does, but in the control of its rational use and in the prevention of all abuse. Intemperance is a terrible weed, but its roots will be found to be entangled amid many social problems of heredity, poor food, overwork, bad cooking, and bad homes, all quite as important, if not more important, than the question of alcohol." The main object of the present article, however, is to protest, in the name of science, against the tethering of it to any party policy whatever; and in the name of social and political justice against laying hold of the public schools for the propagation of opinions based as yet upon very incomplete inductions. Our temperance reformers have ample scope for a wise and beneficial activity without seeking to control the schools and without perverting opinion by the dissemination of unfounded statements under the guise of science.


We noticed, at the time of its appearance, an article by the celebrated Roman Catholic biologist, Mr. St. George Mivart, claiming for members of the Catholic Church the fullest liberty of opinion in all matters pertaining to science. In Mr. Mivart's opinion, it was a fortunate thing for the world that the Church had blundered so egregiously in condemning and punishing Galileo for putting forward the true theory of the heavens. It was a lesson that the Church would not be likely to forget as to the expediency of minding its own business; and it was an instance to which the laity could always appeal in case ecclesiastical authority should ever seek to set itself up as a judge of scientific questions. To-day, after a lapse of two years, Mr. Mivart comes forward with another plea for liberty—this time in connection with questions of history and criticism. He states that, in writing his former article, he purposely expressed himself very strongly, in order that, if there was anything in the position he took of a nature to call for ecclesiastical censure, he might hear of it; but that, far from having been visited with censure, he had received "warm thanks from members of the clergy, most varied as to rank and position," and particularly from "a most esteemed superior of one of the mediæval religious orders." He therefore feel# that it is time to take another forward step, and say that, in matters of historical and Biblical criticism, the only appeal must hereafter be to facts. It will not suffice to say that such and such statements are contained in Holy Writ, or have formed part of the ordinary teaching of the Church; the only pertinent questions will be: Are they true? Are they supported by such evidence as challenges the assent of impartial inquirers? He then proceeds to give a summary of the leading conclusions of such advanced Biblical critics as Reuss, Colenso, Wellhausen, and Kuenen, and states that, while he is not prepared—does not, indeed, feel himself competent—to say that the views of these eminent men are correct in every particular, he is convinced, after careful inquiry, that they are correct in the main. He considers that these men occupy, in relation to Biblical criticism, very much the same position that Copernicus occupied in relation to the astronomy of his age; and that, just as the world accepted the views of Copernicus when it became intelligent enough to understand them, so the world will eventually adopt the views of the liberal school of Biblical critics. How far these writers go may be judged (in one instance) from Mr, Mivart's statement that "the book of Chronicles is considered (by them) as a thoroughly unhistorical work, the history contained in it being habitually falsified in accordance with the point of view of the priestly code." According to Mr. Mivart, it is quite open to the members of the Catholic Church to accept these views, and, in all such questions, to yield simply to the weight of historical evidence. "It is," he says, "the men of historical science now, and not theologians or congregations, who are putting us in the way of apprehending, with some approach to accuracy, what the truth is as to the dates, authorities, and course of development of the writings which were inspired for our spiritual profit." We presume Mr. Mivart will now wait to see whether ecclesiastical censure will fall upon him for this last utterance. He says he does not think it will. He has reason to believe that "broad views are not in disfavor at the Vatican, though sudden or abrupt action is neither to be expected nor desired." It seems, then, to be a question as to whether that section of the Christian Church which has hitherto been accounted most conservative of traditional opinions, and most resolutely hostile to all the new views of science, is not in reality destined to prove itself the most hospitable and friendly to such new views. The situation is a singular one, and merits the attentive consideration of some excellent people who consider their theology a great advance in point of liberality and rationality upon that of Rome, and who yet have an evil eye for such scientific doctrines as that of evolution, to say nothing of a free critical handling of the sacred texts. On the subject of Biblical criticism we have no opinions to offer; but we must say that we feel like agreeing with Mr. Mivart that, in this field, as in every other, the authorities to be deferred to are those who have a competent knowledge of facts, not those who are merely the official conservators of ancient dogmas.