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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/January 1895/Editor's Table

EDITOR'S TABLE.

THE CASE OF PROFESSOR EDWARDS.

DR. WOOTEN, President of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas, states in a letter which we publish above that Prof. Charles L. Edwards was not dismissed from the chair of biology in that university because he taught the doctrine of evolution, but "because he was the author of an anonymous article libeling a member of the Board of Regents, an officer of that board, and a member of the faculty." Dr, Wooten is, of course, entitled to make this statement if he believes it to be true; but, considering that both in local journals and in press dispatches from Austin, the seat of the university, to papers all over the country it was freely stated that the objection made to Prof. Edwards was that he taught the doctrine of evolution, Dr. Wooten might very properly have explained how that impression got abroad, and why the Board of Regents did not take an earlier opportunity to correct it. We have before us a dispatch from Austin to the Chicago Times, bearing date May 26th last, in which it is expressly stated that the Board of Regents were considering charges made in private and from the pulpit that Prof. Edwards was "teaching the Darwin theory, and not orthodox science of creation as treated in the Bible." If that statement was not true, surely the Board of Regents might, for the credit of the university, have taken the trouble to contradict it. We have before us also the letter in which Prof. Edwards was apprised of his dismissal. There is not a word in it of the now. alleged ground of dismissal; simply a statement that in the opinion of the regents "the interest of the university requires your immediate removal." This letter bears date June 21, 1894. Is it not most singular, considering the light in which the matter had previously been represented in the press, that the Board of Regents should not have thought it worth while to put on record in this letter that their action was based not on any objection to the professor's evolutionary views, but on a specific act of personal misconduct, if such was really the case?

Dr. Wooten characterizes as "a pure invention" the statement that Prof. Edwards was removed because he was an evolutionist, but he does not state whether, in point of fact, the teaching of evolution is permitted in the University of Texas. If it can be declared without reserve that the successor of the late professor of biology is perfectly free to teach his class on the lines of evolution, then the statement that Prof. Edwards did not incur loss of office on account of his scientific views will at least have a measure of plausibility. Certainly, judging by the tone of the article in the Austin Daily Statesman from which we quoted in our October number, and of a further article in the same journal relying to our comments, we should judge that the life of an evolutionist professor in the Lone Star State would not be a happy one. The Statesman now says that the article we

quoted from in October was only a local one dealing with rumors. We can only say that the style of that article and that of the undoubtedly editorial one now before us are so remarkably similar as to suggest a doubt whether, in the Statesman office, the differentiation of local from general editorial work has yet taken place. If it has, then we must conclude that the local editor of last summer has been promoted, and now occupies the inmost sanctum. The zeal for orthodoxy and the command of picturesque and incoherent language which his earlier article displayed could not well be surpassed; but we think they are equaled in the following extract from the later and strictly editorial article: "We confess that we are not captivated by the historical accuracy of the natural affinity orthodoxy of the monkey and baboon nuptials; and if this periodical's [The Popular Science Monthly's] facts on that subject are not more correct than its representation of the reasons for the resignation of Prof. Edwards, the Texas populace are under no obligations of logic to believe the doctrine of evolution." Texas was evidently waked up too soon, and when people are waked up too soon they are apt to be cross. A few years' more slumbering on that "log" that the Statesman told us about in its former article would about meet the case.

 

 
PROGRESSIVE THOUGHT.

In marked contrast to the tone of thought which characterizes some of the educational institutions of this country is that which finds expression in a report that has reached us of the jubilee lately held of Knox College, Toronto, Canada. Knox College, as its name indicates, is a Presbyterian institution, and, if we are rightly informed, is affiliated with the University of Toronto. Be its theological complexion what it may, however, the speeches delivered at its jubilee make it evident that, as a teaching institution, it is prepared to do full justice to the claims of science, instead of making science bend to the requirements of a stereotyped creed. The reverend Principal Grant, of Kingston, Ontario, one of the chief speakers on the occasion in question, expressed himself as follows: "The people are beginning to care less and less for controversial divinity. . . . All colleges now profess to study the Bible scientifically, and the churches therefore must accept conclusions arrived at in accordance with canons of universal validity, or perish morally in the presence of the scientifically educated world. Science is marching on irresistibly because there is no sectarianism in science. There can be none, because reason is one." The Rev. Dr. Burwash, President of Victoria College (Methodist), which is also affiliated with Toronto University, spoke with equal boldness. "For my own part," he said, "I have long since ceased to lecture on polemical theology, and have adopted the historical methods of comparative theology, striving from the center of union of all our doctrines to work out into a more perfect grasp of truth than could ever be possible from within the Chinese wall of our own 'ism.' There are men who think that in religion the scientific spirit has no place, and that the dogmatic must reign supreme. . . . What is the scientific spirit? It is the simple, honest desire to get at the truth. It is the candid willingness to accept the truth wherever we find it, and no matter how it may cross our preconceived opinion. Has it come to this that our creeds are more precious than the truth, that we must shut our eyes lest the blazing light of the nineteenth century should reveal some imperfection in the form, or even in the matter, of our historic creeds?"

Principal Grant is a Presbyterian, Dr. Burwash is a Methodist, but both are on the highroad of modern thought; that is to say, both believe in the efficacy of the scientific method for the discovery of truth, and are prepared to accept whatever conclusions a right use of reason may establish. We must congratulate the Canadian public on the support they give to such men, and the liberty they allow them to speak out the best thought that is in them. It is needless to say that the fearless attitude of mind which these two college presidents display is the only safe one for religious teachers. Young men will give them their confidence and yield to their influence, if they see that they are dealing honestly with them, and trying to open their minds to the.truth, not to close them against the truth. There has been too much of the latter in times past, and indeed there is too much yet; but a better day is dawning in the educational world, and there is reason to hope that before very long the old strife between theology and science will have worn itself out. In that day science will be left free to discover truth in any and every field of investigation; while religion, inheriting all of value that theology ever possessed, will not only survive, but have its recognized and assured position, as the inextinguishable tendency of man's moral nature to worship the Source of all law, and to shelter itself in the belief in an Infinite Righteousness.

 

 
FOOD FOR THE GULLIBLE.

Thibet is a very distant and inaccessible country, and therefore we may expect very remarkable things to happen in it. It is, as we know, the classic land of occultism, the favorite habitat of mahatmas and the most convenient place from which to slide into the astral plane. There the enlightened ones read minds just as easily as we plodding Westerns the gigantic lettering on our dead walls, pick up knowledge of all kinds by a simple effort of volition, and not only profess a contempt for time and place but practically prove to the satisfaction of the well-disposed that, so far as they are concerned, the terms have no meaning or application. A very well-disposed person, Heidrich Hensoldt, Ph. D., has given in the columns of a popular magazine, The Arena, an account of an interview with which he was favored with the Dalai Lama, the supreme object of religious veneration in that country. This august person is supposed to be a reincarnation of the original Buddha. He is chosen by the priests at the age of five or six, and dies gently of his own accord when he reaches the age of twelve. Meantime he is filled with all grace and, wisdom, and the writer of the article tells how powerfully he himself was impressed with what he heard from the lips of the present Dalai, a youth of about eight. In the first place, the Dalai spoke to his interviewer, who was a German, in the most fluent and idiomatic German, and in the very dialect to which the latter was native. "How," asks the writer, "could the mysterious youth have acquired a knowledge of the German language, and moreover of a dialect which is limited to a small district of the fatherland?" If, instead of asking us that question, the interviewer had seized his chance and asked the Dalai himself, he might have got some information. He contented himself, however, after the manner of the faithful, with "pondering a great deal over the problem," and finally arrived at the satisfactory conclusion that it was a kind of mind-reading. The Dalai, launching out thus in German, proceeded to display "an amount of wisdom which I have never since seen equaled in the most famous Oriental or Western thinkers," The samples given us, unfortunately, hardly bear out this eulogium. The learned interviewer was "astonished beyond expression by his detailed knowledge of mineralogy, botany, microscopy, etc.," but he passed by all that to repeat a few sophistical and worn-out arguments which the Dalai worked off on him in regard to the illusoriness of time and space. The idea of time is illusory because degrees of longitude converge toward the pole, and therefore contiguous points near the pole would have the same difference of time as points widely separated at the equator! The interviewer says he "was compelled to admit the force of this logic," but he required further proof before he could accept the Dalai's dictum that "the most stable of our sciences, mathematics," is also wholly based on illusion. The mysterious youth then trotted out the old Greek sophism known to logicians as that of Achilles and the tortoise. If a man had a certain sum of money to pay, and on a certain date paid half of it, then on a later date half the remainder, and then on succeeding dates half of whatever might still be due, he might go on to all eternity paying, but would never have the debt fully discharged. "Does not this," the youth asked triumphantly and yet sadly, "prove the rottenness of the entire fabric, and that your wonderfully exact science is Maya or illusion?" Again the learned but well-disposed interviewer bowed in acquiescence. Of course, we might feel delicate about arguing with a reincarnated Buddha; but we feel as if the suggestion might properly have been made that the argument in question, which simply affirmed that, unless you pay a debt in full, a portion will remain unpaid, was eminently in harmony with the whole theory of mathematics, which has always required us to believe that a pint will not fill a quart pot,

"We do not reason out things," said the Dalai, "but see them." And then he proceeded to use the identical ineffectual argument used by Mr. Sinnett to which we referred a month or two ago, claiming that the adepts in occult science were substantially in possession of an extra sense, and that that was why the unenlightened world did not believe in them. The slightest reflection, however, as we pointed out, suffices to satisfy us that any one who was really in possession of an additional sense could not fail to be believed in, seeing that he could at any moment prove his possession of that sense by exercising it, and prove it to the utter confusion of those who denied his special powers. The Dalai may have surprised his visitor by his knowledge of various sciences; but whence has come the scientific knowledge which the world to-day possesses save from the untiring labors of men possessing simply the ordinary equipment of senses and faculties? But what is the use of arguing with those who wish to be deceived? For such the worn-out sophistries of a mystery-monger will carry more weight than all the lessons of human experience, and a few oracularly delivered commonplaces assume the guise of a more than earthly wisdom. But common sense and our common senses win in the long run.