Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/February 1896/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


OUR attention has been drawn to an article by an excellent contributor of our own, Dean Carmichael, of Montreal, which appeared a few months ago in the Canada Educational Monthly, on the subject of "Religion and Education." The writer is candid, able, and eminently well-meaning, but we find it impossible, nevertheless, to agree with the views he puts forth, or at least with his main contention. The dean is much impressed with the rapid progress which education has been making in the modern world, and he prophesies that, if the same rate of progress is maintained for seventy-five or a hundred years longer, it will be impossible in any civilized country to gather together so ignorant a crowd as that which tore down the Bastile in 1789. Does that mean that society will then be safe from such convulsions as marked the French Revolution? By no means: crowds may again gather for deadly work, but they will be educated crowds, each man able to write his name and read his paper and proceed with the business of destruction "as an intelligent being, instead of being whirled to it as an atom in a vortex." The dean sees signs of great disturbance in the present day, and he thinks that education, as it is now being imparted to the masses, is rendering society not more but less stable. "The millions," he says, "that in times past were only used to dig and delve, to fill up giant armies, to crowd pauper workhouses, to tenant penal settlements," are being reached by the light of education and are "fast growing into mental as well as physical power." One would be disposed to think that this was not a very lamentable prospect, but it fills Dean Carmichael's mind with the gravest apprehensions. Why? Because he does not see how the minority are going to hold this vast educated majority in check. That the majority must be held in check, unless society is to go to smash, he seems to consider axiomatic. The specific complaint he makes against modern education is that it is virtually divorced from religion. "The whole tide," he says, "of modern civilization, as set going and lauded by the middle and higher classes of society, desires either to sweep distinctive religious teaching clean out of the world's curriculum, or to put it into a corner with a fool's cap on its head. . . . No greater anomaly, I think, has ever existed than that of institutions based upon the open principle that the Bible is the foundation of all education, practically joining hands with unbelievers the world over to make the Bible the least prominent volume of instruction in public education."

These quotations at once indicate the writer's standpoint and suggest our reply. The "anomaly" which appears so striking and inexplicable in his eyes loses much of its extraordinary character on close examination. The question is this: Why are Christian parents so generally willing, where they are not actually desirous, that the Bible should not be made an authoritative text-book in the public schools? Many reasons may be assigned. In the first place, they know that the Bible as it stands, in its entirety, is not adapted to be a school-book. A school-book, as the terra is now and has always been understood, is one specially prepared for the uses and needs of the school, and containing nothing that is not required for purposes of instruction. This is not the case with the Bible, which was not written or put together with any such view, and much the larger part of which is quite unsuited to school use. In the second place, parents know that the Bible is not a book which the first comer can interpret; certainly they are not prepared that the first comer should interpret it to their children. In large part it is a repertory of mysteries which the ordinary certificated teacher has no recognized fitness for handling. If we take even those teachings of the sacred volume which might be considered of the greatest practical importance for purposes of moral instruction, we find that they are far from being viewed in the same light by all professedly Christian parents. Take, for example, the subject of future punishment: the views which one parent might think salutary another would exceedingly object to having placed before his child. We know of a case in which a clergyman of Dean Carmichael's communion was called in to visit a dying man who had previously been visited by a Methodist minister. He found the man's mind greatly disturbed by what the Methodist had told him of the nature of sin and the necessity of conversion, and had much difficulty in relieving him from the excessive fears—excessive from his point of view—which this teaching had awakened. Finally, he told the man that what the Methodist had said was all stuff, and that, if he was sorry for his sins, that was enough; he need have no anxiety. We mention this to illustrate the radically different views which different sects hold, not on minor but on major and most practical questions of biblical doctrine. If on these there are divergent views, what anomaly is there in the general disposition of Christian parents to acquiesce in the disuse of the Bible as a public-school text-book, and to look for its proper interpretation and application to their own chosen and specially-trained spiritual pastors?

But these are not the only reasons. The fact can not be ignored that there is much in the Bible which, from a scientific and historical point of view, does not harmonize with the general character of modern education. Take the several branches of so-called "secular education," and we find that each bears in the strongest manner the impress of the "positive" spirit. If there is any idea that is excluded more rigorously than any other from the whole compass of ordinary scholastic studies it is the idea of the supernatural. No secular history would be read in our schools to-day, or in the schools of any enlightened community, in which the fortunes of nations were represented as controlled by special divine intervention. The time has passed when plagues, earthquakes, and famines could be historically interpreted as expressions of divine displeasure; and the time has almost passed for any useful introduction of the doctrine of design in connection with the study of Nature, The spirit of the inductive philosophy has penetrated everywhere: we should not seek in vain for its signs even in the kindergarten. How, then, we are compelled to ask, can the Bible, which deals in miracle from the first page to the last, be employed as a regular text-book in the Schools without either suffering in its influence from the prevalent tone of the other school studies, or marring more or less the effect of those studies by its constant championship of the supernatural idea? It may be said that so long as the Bible is read and expounded and treated as authoritative in the churches, the same conflict between naturalism outside the Church and supernaturalism within it will exist; but to this may be answered that on the clergy rests the responsibility for finding a modus vivendi between the two, and that, with their special learning and the special interest they have in the matter, much may be possible to them that is wholly beyond the scope of the lay teacher in a public school. There are clergymen who tell us to-day that it is in no wise necessary to believe in the biblical story of creation as a record of facts, and some are almost prepared to dispense with all belief in the miraculous; but could the school teacher in whose hands the Bible was placed as an authoritative text-book be allowed or expected to indulge in such critical exercitations? The idea is ridiculous: a text-book is a textbook, and its meaning must lie on the surface; its words must be susceptible of being taken at their face value; and no special gifts or graces must be required for its satisfactory use as a text-book.

That the Bible as a whole is a most impressive book; that it bears a noble stamp of earnestness and moral elevation; that it contains moral teaching of inestimable value—these are propositions which we should be the last to deny; but, admitting them to the full, we still consider that it is a wise and true instinct which reconciles the majority even of those who place the highest estimate on the Bible to dispensing with its use in the public schools.

But how about those masses who, according to Dean Carmichael, are becoming educated, and owing to that very fact more dangerous than the mob that stormed the Bastile? That all the signs of the times are favorable we by no means think; but as regards the influence of popular education, what we dread is not the awakening of the intellect of the multitude so much as the stifling of it and the enslaving of it to false ideas. So far as popular education has an awakening effect, its influence, we doubt not, will be good. A man does not become dangerous because he has learned to sign his name; but he becomes dangerous both to himself and to others if he has been taught to dissociate cause and effect; if he has got it into his head that benefits may be obtained without labor; if his brain has been muddled with the notion that others are responsible for making him happy and prosperous. We dread an education which in any way withdraws a youth from the salutary influence of natural reactions and tends to give him an artificial conception of the world he lives in. We dread an education which favors the formation of indolent habits, or which confuses and enfeebles the mind by calling upon it to pursue abstract trains of thought when it should be occupied with the concrete. We dread an education which at once excites ambition and disinclines for toil; which gives a smattering of many things, but no true sense of power or competence in regard to anything; which represses individuality and so robs character of a main element of strength. And all these unfavorable results, we fear, are wrought by much of the education that is imparted to-day. But to try to conquer our evils or avert our perils by driving back the masses into ecclesiastical penfolds is as chimerical an idea as could well be conceived. The world is willing, and more than willing, to listen to those who can shed a glory upon human life borrowed from regions of faith and hope that lie above our ordinary range of thought; but it is not willing, and never henceforth will be willing, to substitute any form of theological prescription for the authority which it has learned to attach to verified truth. If we have battles to fight we must fight them, and perhaps, when it comes to that, we may learn a wisdom which in times of comparative ease and prosperity we were incapable of learning. Certain it is that in this world everything has its specific cause, which means that every evil has its specific remedy. Trouble, it was long ago observed, does not spring out of the ground; it is for us to find out where it does spring from; and when the trouble becomes acute, our intellectual operations are wont to be greatly stimulated.

The dean would have us restore the Bible to the schools and place the latter in effect under the control of the clergy. Our idea is to study out the problem of education in the widest sense until we have, in a really effectual manner, correlated it with the whole life of society. The former is the ecclesiastical remedy for social ills; the latter is the scientific, and we believe it to be that which the future is destined to justify.


The Institut de France, popularly known as the French Academy, and which is undoubtedly the oldest and the most famous of the world's learned societies, celebrated with great ceremony and with the active participation of the Government of France, on October 23d-26th last, the hundredth anniversary of its existence; one of the most noted and pleasant features of which was the hearty welcome extended to its foreign associates and corresponding members. As it is generally understood that these two titles are the highest honors which France can award in testimony of intellectual work actually done by foreigners—the cross of the Legion of Honor being often conferred for merely political reasons—it is a matter of interest to know what citizens of the United States have been the recipients of these honors. Preliminary, however, to their specification, it is desirable to explain the organization of the institute. It consists of five departments or divisions, each of which is designated as an academy—namely, the Académie Française, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Académie des Sciences, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie des Sciences Morales et Politique. Each academy, except the Academie Française, which comprises a general reunion of all the other academies, is divided into sections for the consideration of special subjects, and is made up of members of the institute who are regarded as specialists, or acknowledged authorities in different departments of learning. Thus, the domain of the "Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres" embraces the learned languages, antiquities, monuments. Oriental literature, and history; that of "Sciences," astronomy, geography, navigation, general physics, chemistry, zoölogy, botany, medicine, andx surgery; that of "Beaux-Arts," painting, sculpture, architecture, engraving, and music; and that of "Sciences Morales et Politique," morals, philosophy, jurisprudence, political economy, finance, and philosophical history. Each of the academies holds weekly meetings, and once a year the five academies as a rule hold a public meeting in common; and occasionally other general meetings for the reception of new members and the distribution of prizes. In virtue of endowments, bequests, and the like, the institute is in receipt of annual revenue of at least five million francs ($1,000,000), which it distributes annually in the form of prizes for merit in respect to literary-work, inventions, scientific discoveries or researches, and also for examples of what are termed "impecunious" virtue.

The institute, comprising the above five academies, is primarily composed of members, who by rule or custom are always and exclusively natives of France, and who, on the assumption that their achievements in the various departments of learning have assured to them permanent reputation, are popularly designated as the Immortels. Each one of these receives an annual life salary from the state of twelve hundred francs, and a small additional sum contingent on personal attendance at the regular meetings of the academies and Institute.

Besides the primary or permanent members, the institute is made up of two other classes of members—namely, Associés Étrangers (foreign associates) and Correspondants. The number of the former is limited to thirty-two persons of foreign birth and residence, and comprises such names as Gladstone, Alma Tadema, Sir Frederick Leighton, President of the British Royal Academy, Max Müller, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Sir John Millais, and Verdi, the Italian composer. Of the names of members of this class deceased within a comparatively recent period may be mentioned those of Agassiz, Helmholtz, De Candolle, Richard Owen, Curtius, the German historian, and Bunsen and Wohler, the celebrated German chemists. As yet the name of no citizen of the United States has been inscribed on the roll of the foreign associates of the institute, although it is understood that in a recent election to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of a member, the name of Prof. Simon Newcomb, of Washington, lacked but a few votes of receiving this honor.

Next in order in the organization of the institute is the class of corresponding members, an election to which, irrespective of nationality, is regarded as a very high honor, though not as great as a membership among the thirty-two foreign associates. The number of correspondents reported in the Annuaire of the institute for 1893 was two hundred and fifty-six, about one third of whom were French citizens. The following list exhibits the names and the date of the election of the correspondents, including those recently deceased, who have been elected from the United States:

Prof. James D. Dana, zoölogist, New Haven, Conn., 1873, deceased; David A. Wells, economist, Norwich, Conn., 1874, elected to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of John Stuart Mill; Prof. Simon Newcomb, astronomer, Washington, D. C, 1874; Prof. William Whitney, linguist. New Haven, 1877, deceased; George Bancroft, historian, 1877, deceased; Asaph Hall, astronomer, Washington, D. C, 1879; Benjamin Apthorpe Gould, astronomer, Cambridge, Mass., 1881; Richard Morris Hunt, artist, 1882, deceased; James Hall, geologist, Albany, N. Y., 1884; Alexander Agassiz, naturalist, Cambridge, Mass., 1887; Prof. Samuel Langley, Superintendent Smithsonian Institution, astronomer, 1888—seven living members, none of whom were present at the centennial celebration. Among some of the present or recent correspondents from countries other than France and the United States may be mentioned the names of Momsen, the distinguished German historian; Struve, the Russian astronomer; Lockyer, Huggins, Huxley, Burne-Jones, Bryce, Fitzjames Stephen, Goschen, Sir John Hooker, England; Nordenskiold, Sweden; Vogt, Switzerland; Virchow, Roscher, Germany; Lanciani, Rome; Jacoby, Austria, etc.

The Institute of France is not as important an organization as it was fifty years ago, but it is still influential through its elections, which are regarded as acknowledgment of scientific merit, and the prizes it annually awards for original research, discoveries, and inventions. It maintains its authority not upon its prestige in the past, but upon the fact that it always enrolls among its members the most distinguished scientists and writers of France, and such citizens of other countries as have in its judgment done great and original work in any department of human knowledge. In the opinion of one of its most distinguished living members, M. Berthelot, the noted French chemist, and present (1895) French Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Academy of Sciences, "if it no longer has the initiative of discoveries, it at least constitutes a dike against charlatanism, and aids in giving the widest publicity to the achievements of French and foreign savants."