Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/May 1894/Editor's Table



JUDGING by a kind of "symposium" we saw lately in a San Francisco paper, the clergy of that city, or at least some of them, seem to think it their duty to keep a watchful eye on the utterances of the professors of science in the neighboring universities, in order that they may raise a voice of warning should anything be said that threatens to conflict with their ideas of theological orthodoxy. As usually happens in such cases, the men who have fallen under the censure of these guardians of the truth are two of the brightest ornaments of the Western scientific world—Prof. Joseph Le Conte, of the University of California, and President David Starr Jordan, of Stanford University. These eminent scientists had not succeeded in "hitting it off" to the entire satisfaction of their clerical critics, and were consequently attacked by the latter with no little acrimony. To offset this manifestation of narrow-mindedness, however, the Episcopalian Church Club of San Francisco, as we learn, gave a dinner to the incriminated professors, at which liberal, kindly, and rational sentiments were the order of the day. It is to this celebration, if we may so call it, that the discussion which we referred to at the outset relates. Prof. Le Conte, who contributes the first paper, predicts that, when the religious world has succeeded in adjusting itself to the doctrine of evolution, as it has already done to various geological and astronomical theories which it once considered very alarming and heretical, religion will only be the stronger because more rational. Prof. David Starr Jordan makes so bold as to say that "science can not demand anything less than absolute freedom of development; it must be free alike from the need of premature decisions and of premature reconciliations." He says, moreover, that whatever be the origin of a doctrine or opinion, science claims the right to set it aside if it is found to be scientifically false or unsound. He declines to accept the dictum that there are three kinds of evolution, theistic, agnostic, and atheistic, and that these must be carefully distinguished. He says there is but one kind of evolution, and that the epithets in question have no application to it, but only to individuals. What he means, evidently, is that the only kind of evolution a man of science as such can believe in is that which reveals itself to him as the result of his investigations. Mr. W. T. Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews, says (writing from Chicago, where he was at the time) that "it will take a good many banquets to evolutionists before the Christian Church can adequately acknowledge the debts which it owes to the man (Darwin) and the school which revivified the popular conception of the living God."

Thus good comes out of evil. The ecclesiastical mind would fain still impose fetters upon scientific thought, but whenever it makes any open attempt to do so, it is sure in these days to meet with repulse. If our religious teachers would but believe it, there is an ample field open to them for instructing and benefiting mankind without making any attempts to restrict scientific investigation or the enunciation of scientific doctrines. It is theirs to interpret to their fellow-men—in so far as they may be sufficient for the task—their deepest relations to the universe in which they live. The hygienist may tell us how to maintain our physical health, the sociologist how to govern ourselves as members of society, the publicist or political economist how we may advance our own material interests or contribute to those of the community. But there is room for a teaching which shall in a manner correlate all these, which shall reveal the sacredness of every duty and the profound significance of life. This is the teaching which especially deserves the name of religious, inasmuch as it awakens in the mind of the individual a consciousness of his relation to the universe as a whole, and an accompanying sense of universal law. Who, it may be asked, is sufficient for these things? Not every one assuredly who enters on the clerical profession. It is a vastly easier thing to denounce science as heterodox than to minister in any effective manner to the higher life of one's fellows. The latter, however, is the true function of the religious teacher, not the former; and it is a function the need for which was never greater than it is to-day. Science is advancing with giant strides, but discontent is on the increase. Why? Because the essential conditions of happiness are ignored; because rich and poor, however diverse their points of view in other respects, join in affirming that life consists in material abundance, that character is of little account, that money can do everything. In such a condition of things it is really surprising that religious teachers should find time to attack men of science for any views whatever which they may promulgate, the need being so pressing for a manifestation of those moral truths which no scientist would think of opposing, and which in point of fact no scientific doctrine can be said to touch. The fields are white to the harvest, but the really competent reapers are few. They would be more numerous perhaps if the needs of the time were better understood, and if men were not required to undergo an apprenticeship to outworn systems of thought before betaking themselves to the work of the ministry. We ask our religious friends to think of this. Science can not be arrested in its investigations, but these need not and do not stand in the least in the way of true religious work. Let the scientists, therefore, occupy their own field without molestation, and let the clergy—those who are fit for their high office—occupy their own field and labor to promote higher views of the worth and destiny of human life than those ultra-material ones which are so widespread to day, and which are nowhere more conspicuous than in the churches. Then we may have peace with progress.


In an article on The Unemployed, which appered in last month's Table, we ventured the opinion that one reason why the number of these was so great was that thousands of persons in the present day were receiving an education which they were not able afterward to put to any satisfactory use; and from an article by Mr. Goldwin Smith, which fell under our eye just as our own was finished, we were able to quote a passage strongly confirmatory of the position we had taken. Years ago Prince Bismarck had said the same thing in regard to Germany, and we remember how sharply a certain college president in this country resented the idea that college classes could by any possibility be too large, or engineers, architects, chemists, lawyers, doctors, etc., qualified or semi-qualified, be in too great proportion to the rest of the community. Of course, the financial prosperity of a college depends in a measure on the number of students it can attract, and we can understand why college authorities might not like the idea to get abroad that to send a boy to college is not always the wisest thing to do with him. Still, the truth that college education and semi-education can be overdone is one that, in our humble opinion, is destined to force itself, despite all that college presidents can say to the contrary, on public attention.

As regards Germany the opinion which, as we have said, Prince Bismarck expressed years ago is strongly confirmed by Mr. William H. Dawson's recent work on Germany. We take the following summary of his observations on this question from the London Saturday Review:

"He draws a very gloomy picture of the result of too many universities and too much higher education. We should like to think he exaggerated here, but we are forced to admit he does not. Twenty-two seats of learning are yearly 'turning out studied men in thousands,' and the unfortunate 'studied men' are lucky if, at the age of thirty-five, they are earning the wages of English bank clerks. The paternal state finds money for universities and looks to the qualifications for the professions and the civil service; but that paternal state can not provide its carefully examined would-be lawyers and doctors and civil servants and teachers with briefs and patients and posts and pupils; and, as a consequence, the educated unemployed increase mightily in numbers year by year. Still more formidable are the 'breakages'—the horde of superficially book-learned young fellows of the middle and lower middle ranks whom stupidly ambitious fathers have sent to universities (the state aiding) to fail in examinations when they ought to be selling groceries or hoeing potatoes. These undoubtedly form a truly 'dangerous class'; unfit for real intellectual effort, they have just sufficient smattering of letters, philosophy, economics, and science to make them the readiest tools of the agitator and the most permanent and effective nuisances to society, against which they have the very real grievance that they are unable to serve it in any useful way."

We have the case here very succinctly stated. These are the men who say that "the world owes them a living," the truth being that they have contracted a debt both for previous living and for education which they have little prospect of ever being able to wipe out. The sooner we recognize the fact that our modern systems of education are largely experimental, and that much of the way we have gone may have to be retraced, the better it will be for the permanent peace of society. At present we are using too much yeast of a not very wholesome kind, and the result is an excessive and dangerous amount of social fermentation.