Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/May 1889/Editor's Table
MILL'S-'Essay on Liberty" and Darwin's "Origin of Species" mark the opening of what we may regard as the latest chapter in the history of modern thought. Mill vindicated for all men the right, not only of using their individual judgment, but of expressing their individual opinions, upon all subjects whatsoever, and proclaimed it to b© at once the duty and the interest of society at large to see that no impediments were cast in the way of such exercise of intellectual liberty. Darwin furnished almost at the same moment a theory which ran so strongly counter to received opinions that to espouse it demanded no small amount of intellectual courage, and to discuss it fairly on its merits, without any appeal to theological prejudices, a somewhat rare degree of liberality. Darwin seemed to say to a society that had just received Mr. Mill's essay with acclaims of praise: "Well, here is a touchstone of your sincerity; here is a doctrine which I have carefully thought out, and which, if true, involves a complete reconstruction of many of your most cherished ideas: can you do it justice? Can you do justice to those who may accept it?" Outside of the theological colleges the world responded fairly well to the appeal, and "The Origin of Species," though keenly criticised, received the treatment due to a serious intellectual effort. How far the theological colleges, or the theologically governed colleges, lagged behind may be judged from the comparatively recent period at which a professor of eminence was removed from his chair in a Southern college because he had embraced and taught Darwinism in a very mild and inoffensive form.
The question, however, at which we wish to glance very briefly, is not as to the merits of Darwinism, but as to whether a better basis for the claims of modern thought might not be found on the lines of Mill's famous essay than upon that profession of "agnosticism" to which so many nowadays betake themselves. A passage that falls under our eye, from a French moralist of the seventeenth century, may help to illustrate our meaning. "There is," says Nicole, the friend of Pascal, "a duty of conviction., which arises when we are face to face with evidence; a duty, also, of doubt., because it is absurd not to be in doubt regarding doubtful things; and a duty of opinion., because we are obliged to affirm that one thing is more probable than another, if proof to that effect is offered." Now, what a modern thinker may justly claim is, liberty to do what Nicole calls his "duty" in these three particulars: to believe in things certain, to doubt of things doubtful, and to have an opinion where the evidence, though not demonstrative, is sufficient to establish a probability. But from which of these three phases of duty should he choose a name for himself? Would it not be equally absurd for him to call himself a "believer," or a "doubter," or an "opiner"? Surely he is all three, each in its turn; and, whether in believing, or in doubting, or in opining, he is equally maintaining his intellectual integrity. Taking this view of the matter, we have not hitherto been able to regard the "agnostic" position as very well or happily chosen by many, at least, of those who profess to hold it. We think, for example, that "agnostic" is a poor name for such a man as Prof. Huxley to be known by. Prof. Huxley is a man of a decidedly positive and constructive cast of mind, a man eager to affirm all the truths that he can establish. If he makes a stand for anything, it is for intellectual integrity. To him it is a crime to believe without evidence, or to disbelieve in spite of evidence. In this respect he is entirely at one with the excellent Nicole, whose words we have quoted. Why should a man of this kind be separated by any badge or party nickname from the community at large? His one great interest is the truth, and what nobler interest can any man have? Or, again, what profounder basis of sympathy and union can any two men, or any body of men, have, than a common and ardent love of the truth? Mere outward agreement in opinion counts for little, unless there is sincerity at the back of it. It is impossible, at least for any enlightened man, to derive satisfaction from the support of those who, he knows, have no interest in the truth, and who are prepared to defend the opinions they have embraced by all kinds of party strategy.
The highest profession any man can make is a profession of intellectual integrity; and to us it seems to be sufficient for aU purposes. It is one which a man can summon others to share. It becomes at once the basis of a true apostolate. "Believe what you may," cries the true modern thinker, "disbelieve what you may, only make it a sacred principle that your beliefs shall be honest, and shall be advocated and defended by honest arguments and none other." It may seem to some that this is an appeal easily made, a programme easily realized. Possibly, but it demands this: that underneath every opinion and belief shall be a fundamental sense, acquiring gradually the force of an instinct, that the ultimate object of loyalty and devotion is the truth. Truth, if we may so express it, must own the soil of the mind, and opinions and beliefs must be merely tenants occupying according to the terms of their several leases. Loyalty to an opinion is a misleading phrase, and one that ought to be banished from the vocabulary of honest men. The only true and worthy loyalty is to that which alone can vitalize any opinion—namely, the truth.
If it be objected that there is no convenient name by which the brotherhood of truth-lovers could be known, we answer that the objection seems to us of trifling importance. The great thing is that a man should be a truth-lover, not that he should have any special appellation. The Christians "were first called Christians at Antioch"; and St. Paul founded churches without, apparently, using or recognizing the name, which is not once mentioned in his epistles. The "Methodists" of the last century took a name that was applied to them mainly in derision by their opponents, and one which certainly did not bind them to any set of opinions. Let a man profess and, still better, let him practice honesty in all his beliefs, and let the world dub him as it may. He will then be prepared to say, when duly questioned, what those things are which, following the pious Nicole, he finds it a duty to believe, the evidence being what it is; what those things are which to his honest apprehension are doubtful; and what those in regard to which he is moved by a greater probability to entertain an opinion. The things that he disbelieves he will also with equal frankness declare, and bis disbelief will be governed by a sense of duty as much as every other attitude of his mind. There is great need in the present day for those who love the truth in sincerity to seek one another out, and to strengthen one another for the great conflict that has incessantly to be waged with the forces of error, of falsehood, and of moral indifference. What can separate any man, against his will, from the love of the truth? And what should separate from one another men who, though differing momentarily in opinion, love the truth with constant and equal devotion?
We find in the March number of the "Canada Educational Monthly," published at Toronto, the following remarks about Dr. Andrew D. White and "The Popular Science Monthly":
"The same number [of 'The Popular Science Monthly'] contains the concluding portion of Dr. Andrew White's article on 'Demoniacal Possession and Insanity.' Dr. Andrew White 'seemeth to be somewhat,' but, we think, many thoughtful readers will say, 'he addeth nothing to me.' Probably the best article in the number, for most of our readers, will be that on 'Natural Science in Elementary Schools.' Sometimes the 'Popular Science' is worth reading carefully, but at other times it is somewhat unsatisfactory, and many of its writers seem to have atheistical tendencies, so that its pages are occasionally disgraced by remarks about Christianity which are too spiteful to be scientific."
Dr. Andrew D. White is what he is, and whatever he "seemeth to be" to the editor of the "Canada Educational Monthly" will not alter the facts. The ex-President of Cornell and our late Minister to Germany does not need that we should sound his praises as a man of wide and accurate knowledge and of philosophic habit of mind. What must have struck every careful reader of his recent articles is, that he handled his subject with the utmost regard for the feelings of those to whom some of his conclusions might have been unwelcome; and it seems proper to remark that, if he "added" nothing else to the editor of the "Canada Educational Monthly," he might have added—had his example been sufficiently heeded—a tone of respect in dealing with the opinions of opponents. It is easier, however, to sneer than to argue, to insinuate than to prove or disprove. If Dr. White has presented his subject in a false light, let the "Canada Educational Monthly" demonstrate the fact. It i§ hard to "add" anything to people who do not want to have anything added to them except, perhaps, an extra layer of prejudice; but, in the way of adding information, that writer does his own full duty who states relevant facts in a lucid and candid manner. If Dr. White has not done this, let his critics show it. We are not responsible for our contributors' opinions; but, in the name of intellectual honesty and literary morality, we protest against such criticism as that quoted from our Toronto contemporary.
As to "The Popular Science Monthly," we have no doubt that our habit of letting the leading thinkers of the world express their opinions through our pages is very distasteful to many who still cling, more or less tenaciously, to the slowly decaying superstitions of the past. But the columns of the "Monthly" will bear witness that these discussions, though in the main outspoken, have always been dignified in tone, and as considerate of the feelings of others as the utmost courtesy can require.
"The Popular Science Monthly" endeavors to represent the scientific culture of the age in all its fullness and variety; and it is happy to know that, in doing so, it has the sympathy and support of a very wide circle of readers, including most of the prominent educators of this continent. Our firm belief is, that the truth can take care of itself—that it does not need any bolstering or hedging round or underpinning; and we therefore throw our pages open to any one who can discuss a timely subject bearing upon the progress of human interests in a scientific manner. We know of no other principle upon which a "Popular Science Monthly" could be honestly or successfully conducted; and, as to our pages being "disgraced by remarks about Christianity which are too spiteful to be scientific," we can only say that an unsupported charge of this kind, in the face of the record made by the magazine from its beginning, need give us extremely little concern. Some time ago we had occasion to remark that a single number of the "Canada Educational Monthly" contained two articles borrowed from "The Popular Science Monthly"—one of them without acknowledgment. We think that such practical approval of the wares we offer the public goes far to set off the illiberal criticism above quoted from the same quarter.