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

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
ANOTHER RAID ON THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION.

A FEW months ago we referred to the objections which had been made to the teaching of modern scientific views in the University of California; but fortunately we were able to state that much public sympathy had been extended to the incriminated professors, and that they were able to hold their positions without any curtailment of the liberty they claimed of imparting the best scientific instruction in their power without regard to preconceived notions or theories. Even as we wrote there was similar trouble brewing, though we were not aware of it, in the University of Texas. The results in the latter case, if we are rightly informed, have been far less satisfactory than in the former. The Texan conscience, it seems, is a very tender one; and when it became mooted that Dr. Edwards, the Adjunct Professor of Biology, was teaching on evolutionary lines, and that the ingenuous youths who attended his classes were in danger of imbibing such ideas as that the world may not really have been made in six days, and that the countless species of plant and animal life now existing or that have existed in the past may not have been called separately into being by so many distinct acts of creation, there was much heart-searching on the ranches, and an enlightened public opinion determined that something must be done at once. They can stand a good many things down in the Lone Star State, but heterodoxy and horse-stealing are two things they will not stand if they can help it. As the Austin Daily Statesman elegantly expressed it: "The mind of the common people of Texas is wonderfully set and united on the verity of the old Bible as she stands in the King James version. The least hint that anything is being taught in any school that will unsettle the faith of their children in the good old Bible doctrine of the creation of matter, the origin of life, and the descent of the race from Adam and Eve, without going any further back in the pedigree, will raise the 'Old Henry' and wake the reptile that sleeps on the log in the sun with pious fathers and mothers all over the State. The origin of man, as set forth in the Bible in a pretty clear fashion, is made in the image of God with a natural body and a reasonable soul. It was a creative act of almighty power immediately performed with no intermediate ancestry." The slight literary defects which the above extract—given, of course, textually—may reveal do not impair the lucidity with which it sets forth the views of "the common people of Texas." Whether Dr. Edwards had or had not heard of "the reptile that sleeps on the log with pious fathers and mothers all over the State" we are not informed. All we know is that, intentionally or unintentionally, he roused it from its slumbers, and that it was not long in stinging into action the regents of the university. A three-years' engagement had been entered into with the professor, only a short part of which had expired; but under the attacks of "the reptile" the regents made short work of their contract, and sent Dr. Edwards to teach his evolutionary doctrines elsewhere. It is rumored, indeed, that another reptile was roused into life at the same time as the orthodox one—namely, the reptile of local jealousy. The professor was not a Texan, and this, added to the fact that he was an avowed evolutionist, caused him to receive a very short shrift. One or two other professors, according to the journal above quoted, took the hint and, with a wisdom somewhat resembling that of Colonel Crockett's coon, "came down"—that is to say, resigned—so that at this date the university may claim to be tolerably free from the leaven of evolutionary theories.

Perhaps it is best. Texas is a remote State, and many things there are in a very primitive condition. It is a land where one man's opinion is as good as another's, and where any little defects in a gentleman's logic can be handily repaired with a six-shooter. According to the Daily Statesman, which ought to know whereof it affirms, "the common people" do not look upon schools and universities as places where some things may be taught of which they are themselves ignorant, but as places the instruction in which they are entirely competent and entitled, in the fullness of their knowledge, to direct. They know how the different forms of organic life came into existence, and no professor—particularly one from another State—is going to steal into their institutions of learning (save the mark!) and teach anything on this subject contrary to what they hold. Well, we think there is something in Mr. Spencer's works which fits this case. He says, in the preface to the Data of Ethics, that evil results may flow if people take up evolutionary views before they are really fitted for self-guidance. For some communities and individuals of a backward type the strong, not to say, coarse sanctions of a primitive theology are better and safer than the broader but less potent motives which the scientific view of the world and of human life affords. We are therefore by no means disposed to hold that the Texans do not know what is good for them. With a little change of dialect they might say with Tennyson's Northern Farmer:

"Doctors, they knaws nowt, for a says what's naways true;
Naw sort o' koind o' use to saäy the tilings that a do."

And just as the northern farmer had had his pint of ale every night for forty years, and insisted on having it still in spite of doctors, so "pious fathers and mothers all over the State" have been accustomed to the biblical version of the origin of species, and will have it in spite of all new knowledge and all improved theories. There is no great harm in this so long as the thing is thoroughly understood. We sympathize with Prof. Edwards in the disappointment which the untimely termination of his engagement doubtless caused him; but if any other trained biologist accepts a situation in the University of Texas it will be his own fault. The simple truth is that biological science can not as yet be taught in that State—at least not under the auspices of the State. Well, biological science can wait until the quarantine against it is raised, which, of course, it will be some day. The sufferer meanwhile is the State, which condemns its young men either to listen to antiquated and utterly inadequate discussions of biological questions in the State university or else to go abroad for the knowledge which is denied at home.

 

 
THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION IN BROOKLYN.

The American Association had a very pleasant and profitable meeting in Brooklyn. That city has a peculiar character among American towns of great size in being a city of homes rather than of business, and is the residence of a large number of liberalminded, public-spirited men, and of women warmly interested in everything tending to promote advance in knowledge and the means of right living. The scientific students of the country could not fail to find themselves at once at home among such people. This feature of the social and intellectual life of the place was well presented by Dr. Backus in his address of welcome to the association, when, referring to the fact that the citizens had failed to secure the great university of which they had dreamed, he intimated that they had a more than abundant compensation in the great private high schools of world-wide reputation, generously supported by the public without governmental or municipal aid, and appropriating their annual surplus revenues to the strengthening of their faculties and equipments; besides supporting the largest free high schools for young men and for young women in the world, and possessing as superstructures on the private foundations of generous benefactors an institution furnishing "the most practical, the most extensive, and the most advanced system of industrial instruction to be found in our country," and another which maintained twenty-six departments of original scientific research. Dr. Brinton replied in behalf of the association, that it recognized and appreciated the advantages of a reunion in a city "whose streets are lined with edifices erected by the munificence of a few for the benefit of the many, and which in so many features testifies to the broad liberality and enlightened intelligence of its foremost citizens."

Dr. Brinton in his address described the association as a body cultivating a science the spirit of which is to seek as its goal truth, "the one test of which is that it will bear clear and untrammeled investigation"; which admits and appeals to no other evidence than "that which it is in the power of every one to judge, and which is absolutely open to the world, having about it no such thing as "an inner secret, a mysterious gnosis"; a science at once modest in its own claims and liberal to the claims of others, and "noble, inspiring, consolatory" in its mission, "lifting the mind above the gross contacts of life, presenting aims which are at once practical, humanitarian, and spiritually elevating." Dr. Harkness, the retiring president, chose as his subject the magnitude of the Solar System and the elements which enter into the determination of it. His address, while it contained much matter of great interest, was largely technical, dealing considerably with mathematical discussion, and is hardly susceptible of being presented in popular form.

The vice-presidential addresses, likewise, tended to be technical. Dr. Franz Boaz discussed the relation of Race Faculties to the Advancement of Civilization, maintaining that too much emphasis has been laid upon them at the expense of the environment, which is also a factor of very great importance. Vice-President G. O. Comstock addressed Section A upon Binary Stars. Prof. Mansfield Merriam, in the Section of Mechanical Science and Engineering, considered the Resistance of Materials under Impact. In his address upon a Stable Monetary Standard, Vice-President Farquhar, in the Section of Economic Science and Statistics, favored the abandonment of attempts to establish a legal tender by legislation, and the leaving of the question to settle itself. The Battle with Fire was the subject of an address by Vice-President Norton's before the Chemical Section, which embodied an account of the contributions which chemistry has made to the art of extinguishing fires and of preventing them, and contained many practical hints. In the other sections, Vice-President Samuel Calvin described the Niobrara stage of the Upper Cretaceous; Prof. W. A. Rogers spoke of obscure heat as an agent in producing expansion and contraction of metals; and Prof. L. M. Underwood discussed the evolution of the Hepaticæ. While a large proportion of the papers read in the sections were technical and limited in their bearing, a considerable number were also of great general interest.

The meetings of the affiliated societies attracted nearly as much interest as those of the association itself, and papers were read in them which were, to say the least, equal in merit and importance to the average of those which were read in the association. We regard these societies as still in the experimental stage; and it appears to be yet to be determined whether their influence as a whole will be beneficial or the contrary to the general body.

Amendments to the Constitution were proposed for consideration next year, to admit libraries and societies to representation in the association through one of their officers, and to add a Section of Sociology.

The members of the association enjoyed the full measure of the social exchanges and festivities which attend the body wherever it goes. Excursions were made to many points of scientific interest. There were some features to be criticised about the meeting. The relatively small attendance at the very interesting lectures of M. Du Chaillu and Prof. Cope was hardly creditable to the citizens of Brooklyn, in whose honor they were especially given. A deficiency of provisions for the comfort of the attendants of the meetings, particularly in the matter of directions for finding the way, was complained of; and imperfections in the arrangements of some of the excursions revealed a want of adequate central control.