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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/July 1874/Editor's Table

EDITOR'S TABLE.
 
WHO ARE THE PROPAGATORS OF ATHEISM?

THE hope is indulged by many that, with the progress of intelligence and the increase of liberal feeling, the old conflict between religion and science will either die away, or lose so much of its rancorous spirit that it may be coolly and rationally considered, like any other question. But there are parties who do not seem to think this result desirable, and do all they can to perpetuate the acrimonies that have marked this controversy in the past; and, while we will not say that this bad spirit is all on one side, we will say that the most of it and the worst form of it are on one side, and that the side which makes special pretensions to a higher guidance and the loftier virtues. There are religious teachers who habitually make use of science as a scarecrow and bugbear to arouse popular prejudice, and, in doing this, they have not the smallest possible scruple in their representations. We ask attention to the latest illustration of these tactics.

It may be news to some of our readers that there has recently been a vicious attack, on the part of divers religious editors, upon the revised edition of Appletons' Cyclopædia, now going through the press, on the ground that the work is being done in the interests of Romanism. As that charge begins to grow stale, a new cry is raised by the same parties, that the Cyclopædia is being revised in the interest of atheism. The first attack did not interest us, both because our enthusiasm has never run in the direction of ecclesiastical history, and because we knew the character of the men engaged in the revision to be a perfect guarantee for the intelligent, impartial, and thorough performance of their duty to the public. The revisers of the Cyclopædia are our nearest neighbors, and their proceedings have interested us from the beginning. What have especially and constantly attracted our attention have been, the vigorous discipline maintained in carrying on the work, and the incessant solicitude and inflexible determination manifested to make it, in the highest degree, truthful and trustworthy. Knowing this so well, we had not the slightest apprehension that a petty onslaught, inspired by sectarian jealousy, could seriously affect the character of the work with the intelligent class to which such a Cyclopædia must mainly appeal. But in this second attack, which is of wider import, we find ourselves personally implicated, and it therefore becomes proper to notice it; and, when we have shown what it amounts to, the reader will have a pretty good basis for judging the quality of other criticisms emanating from the same source.

In a late number of the Christian at Work, a newspaper edited by the Rev. De Witt Talmage, there is a leading article which contains the following passages:

"In the fifth volume of the new and revised edition of Appletons' Cyclopædia, Prof. E. L. Youmans, treating of the Correlation of Forces, says: 'Therefore, it is now regarded as a fundamental truth of physical science, and a fundamental law of Nature, that force, like matter, is never created or destroyed.' To affirm that matter is never created, is to affirm that it is eternal. If God and matter are coeternal, then they are identical; and if identical, it follows that God is but an impersonal force acting in and through the inherent properties of matter.
"We are sorry to see Appletons' Cyclopædia giving its sanction to a doctrine so thoroughly unscientific and radically anti-christian.
"Last week we were compelled to show that Appletons' Cyclopædia had made some very gracious concession in the field of history to the behests of Romanism. If it is
also to lend its aid to the propagation of scientific atheism, the sooner we know it the better.
"The interests of truth are paramount; and that publication is not trustworthy which perverts history in the interest of Romanism, or science in the interest of atheism."

The Catholic Review, which was probably aware how much terror there was in the "No popery" alarm, and ought to have learned a little caution, joins the Christian at Work in getting up the new scare, and, after making the same quotation from our article, observes: "In other words, Prof. Youmans is allowed, in a work intended for education and general uses, to broach the fundamental heresy that there is no personal God." As an indication of how far Catholics and Protestants are animated by the same spirit, we may note that, when the writers of these articles had been rebuked for their course by other newspapers, they both returned to the subject, and repeated the charges in subsequent issues.

Now, of this formidable indictment we have only to say that it is entirely trumped up, and is without the shadow of a foundation in fact. In preparing an article for the Cyclopedia, on the "Correlation of Forces," we first gave a brief sketch of the investigations that had been made during the past century, and which have brought the whole scientific world to the comparatively new conclusion that, although the different forms of force are convertible, force, or energy itself, is indestructible. After this preliminary statement of the results of experimental investigation, we said, "Therefore, it is now regarded as a fundamental truth of physical science, and a fundamental law of Nature, that force, like matter, is never created or destroyed." The proposition is stated as an inference, as an induction from observations, as a result of experimental inquiry into the physical processes of Nature, and as a pure principle of science. We were not discussing the subject of matter, but of force, and what we declared in regard to force we assumed in regard to matter that, so far as science knows, it is never either created or destroyed. We did not say that matter is eternal; we did not say that matter never was created, for these are questions beyond the limits of science. We avoided all theological implications, and did not go a hair's-breadth beyond the strict inductive conclusion that in the course of Nature there is no evidence of its creation or destruction. For us there is only one question: Was the statement true? That matter "is never credited or destroyed," has been established "as a fundamental truth of physical science and a fundamental law of Nature" for more than a hundred years, or ever since the science of chemistry was founded. Every fact known to chemists or physicists confirms it, and not a solitary fact casts even the slightest doubt upon it. There cannot be shown a particle of evidence within the whole sphere of physical science that a single atom of matter is ever either created or destroyed. The proposition, although for thousands of years it was not believed, is now the corner-stone of all science. If the statement that matter is indestructible be not a truth of physical science, then there are no truths of physical science; if it be not a fundamental law of Nature, then there are no fundamental laws of Nature. The doctrine which we laid down has been held as a demonstration in the whole scientific world, and has become elementary in all our text-books, for generations.

But, for stating it in the American Cyclopædia, that work is charged with being a perverter of science, radically antichristian, and a propagator of atheism. Now, let the reader remember that we are not the parties that have raised this question of atheism. We neither affirmed atheism, nor insinuated it, nor implied it. We strictly avoided a mode of statement which might be twisted into any such construction. It is the theological teachers, the editors of religions newspapers, that thrust the question forward; and they treat it in a way that will entitle them, in our opinion, to rank among the most efficient propagators of atheism. The Rev. Mr. Talmage is an authorized teacher of religion, and, as he is followed by multitudes, it is presumable that his statements have weight with them. He tells them that the American Cyclopædia is a propagator of atheism, because it states in three lines the scientific principle that matter is indestructible. Atheism is here put as the necessary consequence of a demonstrated truth—rather suicidal theology, we should say—but who is the real propagator of atheism, he who simply states the truth, or he who construes it as atheistic? An established principle of science is taken up and subjected to a little theological fumbling, with the result—no God!—let the fumbler take the responsibility. We throw back this charge of propagating atheism where it belongs, upon those who seek every occasion to declare that the question of the existence of God is dependent upon what is going on in the field of scientific research. It was those religious teachers who affirmed that, if the earth is in motion, or was not created in six days, there is no God; and it is these who now say that if evolution, or spontaneous generation, or the doctrine of the correlation of physical and mental forces be true, there is an end to all religion; or, if matter is indestructible, atheism is the consequence—it is these that are sowing the seeds of doubt in the community, and doing more than any other parties to familiarize the general mind with the question of theism in its aspects of assumed uncertainty. We smile at the religious proceedings of the heathen who, after praying to his god for rain until he loses patience, takes him down and thrashes, kicks, and variously maltreats him for neglecting his duties. Yet, after all, how much worse is this than the habit of taking down the idea of God, and profanely battering it about like a foot-ball in the logical arena? We have preachers who make the pulpit a kind of conjurer's platform, where the conception of the Deity is manipulated by syllogistic legerdemain, appearing here and vanishing there, now under this hat, and now under that, to the due astonishment of all beholders. Of the pagan referred to, one thing must in justice be said, that, although he pummels his god with great irreverence, he never doubts him. Some of our own theologians, on the contrary, seem to be more possessed with the idea of doubt in regard to the existence of the Deity, than any thing else. They treat it as an open question, and are forever dwelling upon its contingencies, and showing how if this, that, or the other thing be true, then there is no God at all, and every thing like religion is given over to destruction. We are constantly told that there is an alarming spread of disbelief in these days; what else can be expected under such inculcations? Let it be accredited to its chief source—the audacity and folly of those who use science to unsettle faith by forever insisting upon their antagonism; for religion has no enemies so dangerous as those who insist upon staking its truth upon any conditions or results into which it is the legitimate business of Science to inquire.

 

 
THE SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION.

The American Social Science Association held its May session in New York, and its proceedings have been made familiar to the public through the newspapers. They were of an interesting character, embracing able papers and discussions on a wide range of topics—education, labor, civil service, finance, sanitary subjects, etc. The earnest consideration of these questions, and the collection and diffusion of information concerning them, is, beyond doubt, a most useful work, and, in doing it, the Association should have the sympathy and God-speed of the community.

But, while recognizing that the aim of this organization is excellent, and much of its work highly commendable, we are of opinion that it falls short of what should be its chief duty. It fails to do that for which, judging by its title, it was specifically instituted. So far from promoting social science, we should rather say that social science is just the subject which it particularly avoids. It might rather be considered as a general reform convention. It is an organization for public action, and most of its members, hot with the impulses of philanthropy, are full of projects of social relief, amelioration, and improvement. Of pure investigation, or the strict and passionless study of society from a scientific point of view, we hear but very little. The President announced its leading object to be the promotion of the civil-service reform, and, if so, of course its leading object is not the determination of the natural laws by which society is constituted and regulated—that is, not scientific. If we remember rightly, at the establishment of the organization, the question, what Social Science is, became a matter of discussion, when the most extraordinary and conflicting views were propounded, and nobody seemed for a moment to suspect that social science is but a branch of general science, having similar objects, and to be pursued by the same methods, as the other sciences. Social science is a knowledge of the phenomena of society, as chemical science is a knowledge of the phenomena of the elemental changes of matter. And as the generalization of chemical facts gives us chemical laws, so the generalization of social facts must give us social laws. Social science is possible just to the degree in which these are arrived at. All the proceedings of the late meeting imply that there are such things as social laws, for, if there are not facts that can be known and compared, and effects that are traceable to causes, and an order of relations which makes it possible to calculate results, then the whole work of such an association is futile. Every project of social amendment which proposes that this thing shall be done rather than that, or that one course of action will result in evil, and another in good, presupposes facts, principles, and a method in the natural constitution of society which it is the legitimate province of science to investigate and determine. And, if this be so, it is obvious that the first and most imperative thing to be done is to trace these principles out, so as to arrive at a system of elementary truths that may be taken as the starting-point and foundation of all active measures of social improvement. The working out of something like a definite and authoritative basis of scientific principles, we say, Is the first thing to be done, and this view is sustained by all that we know of the past history of science. All the arts were but blind, and arbitrary, and ineffectual processes, until the sciences upon which they depended were worked out in their fundamental principles as pure questions of research. Not until the laws of physics, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, were determined by a long course of patient and assiduous observation and experiment, pursued with no reference to any thing but the simple establishment of the truth, did the various arts become settled in their practice, so that they could be pursued with efficiency, economy, and success. Much useful work was undoubtedly done while artisans were still blindly groping without rational guidance, cutting, and trying, and wasting power, time, and materials, in following empirical rules. And so, as we have already recognized, much useful work is done by our social reformers; but, in our opinion, they are attempting to attain ends which, if attainable at all, are not to be reached until there is a far clearer understanding of their conditions, and of the principles by which the progress of society is controlled. The Association seems to be but little in advance of an ordinary political convention. Its teachers appear to start from the fundamental postulate of politics, that human society is the product of government, that its regulative laws are the result of majority votes, and consequently that legislation is to be invoked for every thing. There is little recognition of a sphere of natural activities, spontaneous, and self-adjusting, with which government can only meddle for disturbance and mischief; and, of course, there is no investigation of it. What things it is impossible to effect by political agencies, what had better be left to private enterprise, what is the effect of constant intermeddling, and what are the values and limits of those activities which belong to the natural constitution of society, are not among the primary subjects of inquiry. Yet a true social science must, first of all, throw light upon these questions, and, if its effect is to explode many fallacies—to show that the perpetual motions, the philosophers' stones, and the elixirs of life of social projectors, are only groundless fancies—the result must be accepted with never a doubt that, in place of the discredited crotchets, more rational and valuable devices will arise.

 

 
THE PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOLOGY.

The short article on climate and social development which we reprint from advance-sheets of the "Principles of Sociology," by Herbert Spencer, will be welcomed by many as showing the progress of his great work, and that he has at length fairly entered upon that important division of it which deals with the phenomena of society. The "Principles of Sociology," as they will constitute the largest division of his philosophical series, will probably be also its most important division. Mr. Spencer took up social subjects as matters of study in his youth. One of his first publications at the age of twenty-two was, his letters on the "Proper Sphere of Government," in which society was considered from the scientific point of view, or as having its natural laws of regulation and development. Eight years later he published "Social Statics," in which these ideas were expanded and extended, but the completion of this work only brought him fairly to the threshold of the subject. He saw that it must be treated in a far more systematic way, and after ten years of labor directed to a large number of social questions, and working out the principle of Evolution as applied to them, he began his philosophical system in 1860. Fourteen years of labor have brought him to the point from which he started thirty-two years ago, enriched in ideas by a long course of investigation preparatory to dealing with the sociological problems now before him. He begins the "Sociology" as he began the "Biology" and the "Psychology," with the consideration of its data. Those who have examined the "Descriptive Sociology" will remember that at the heads of the tables a class of facts is presented, concerning the various conditions of the country, physical and climatic, with its productions and resources, and the characters of its inhabitants, mental and emotional, by which the state of society is modified, and which of course vary greatly with different communities. After defining Sociology in the first chapter on "Super-Organic Evolution," in which the significance and value of the social instincts exhibited by insects and the lower animals are considered, Mr. Spencer passes in Chapter II. to "The Factors of Social Phenomena," and the subjects just referred to as presented in the tables are now entered upon. Chapter III. is devoted to the "Original External Factors of Social Evolution," and the extracts we now publish are a small part of this exposition. The same questions are touched upon here that Mr. Buckle took up in the early part of his introduction to the "History of Civilization," although it is hardly necessary to say that they are very differently treated.

It may be proper to call attention to one feature of the forthcoming work which will be of general interest. In the preceding volumes on "Biology" and "Psychology," Mr. Spencer has undoubtedly lost some reputation as a popular writer. Those who had read with interest and enthusiasm his brilliant essays, toiled hard over the Biological and Psychological discussions, and got the impression that Mr. Spencer had degenerated in his power of lucid and felicitous exposition. The difficulty, however, was not in the writer, but in the subjects, the facts with which he chiefly dealt being more or less scientific, technical, and foreign to general readers. Dealing with principles and relations, his statements were necessarily abstract, but the trouble was that the terms of the relations and the facts from which the principles were derived were unfamiliar to the common mind. But, in treating of Sociology, or the phenomena of society, Mr. Spencer again enters a sphere of thought the elements of which are no longer foreign to ordinary thought. The "Principles of Sociology" will discuss questions that are quite within the range of popular apprehension, and the difficulty, of which much complaint has formerly been made, will disappear. That Mr. Spencer is very far from having lost or impaired his power of familiar and telling statement we have lately had abundant proof in his series of articles on the "Study of Sociology," a work which is being now widely read and enjoyed by many who were at first under the impression that they would be unable to follow and understand him.

The "Principles of Sociology" will be published in quarterly parts, with regularity if Mr. Spencer's health allows. They will be sold at sixty cents a number, or furnished to regular subscribers at two dollars a year. That the information to be contained in this work will be of the highest value and importance we need scarcely say, and it may be strongly commended on this ground alone; but we appeal to our readers to patronize it, and to induce their friends also to do so, on the further ground that Mr. Spencer is engaged upon a great original and constructive enterprise, and ought to be so amply sustained that he shall suffer no impediment or annoyance of a pecuniary nature in prosecuting his work.

 

 
WAR AND EDUCATION.

One of the most striking results of the sudden rise of a military feeling throughout the country, during the civil war, was the influence it exerted upon education. One might have reasoned that if our educational system be, from top to bottom, that perfection of wisdom which many claim for it, it is the one thing that would have remained unaffected by the accidental circumstances of a war into which we drifted. But our system of education is as far as possible from being strongly knit and firmly organized, and as, on the other hand, it is loose and unsettled, it was very naturally affected by the prevalence of the military feeling. This was seen by the adoption of military exercises in a great number of schools, under the idea that they were to become part of the regular and permanent policy of instruction. And where these were not adopted there was still a new impulse in the way of marching, marshaling, and manœuvring the classes and divisions of large schools; and as this was a showy demonstration it was very telling with the public, and was carried in some cases to ridiculous extremes. We once heard a thoughtful teacher remark, after observing a long course of these mechanical exercises, "I begin to think that one thing answers just as well as another for education." The encroachment of the military spirit was also visible in the reaction toward a severer discipline, a more decided advocacy of corporeal punishment, and the substitution of physical for moral forces as motives to conduct. In short, our schools were deeply and in various ways impressed by the new retrogressive spirit which carried away the country. But, as it came suddenly, it proves not to be lasting, and things are now beginning to resume their old course. The most striking indication of the disposition to return to the old order has been recently exhibited in Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Maine. That institution, it seems, was turned into a kind of half-military establishment, field-drill being a regular exercise. So important was it regarded by Government, that a United States officer was sent there to take charge of this branch of the collegiate work. But the exercises became irksome, and such a bore to the students that, after long and unavailing protests, they at length revolted and almost unanimously refused to drill. The college authorities also refused to yield, and the conflict arrested the operations of the institution. It is a little case of revolution, and as revolution is the mother of war, the war-faculty of the college should not have condemned it too decisively. There seems to be a difference of opinion as to which party was right. The sticklers for discipline and authority of course go with the Faculty, and will no more tolerate the rebellion of the students than they would the mutiny of soldiers against their officers. On the other hand, it is maintained that the republican theory should be carried out in college as well as elsewhere; and that all civil government "derives its just powers from the consent of the governed." Whatever be the result, it cannot be denied that the students have taught the Faculty s wholesome lesson, which is, that they have rights that the authorities are bound to respect, and, if not respected, to be enforced by a resort to extreme measures, too frequently the only way in which rulers can be made to learn any thing.