Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/March 1898/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


We know of no man better fitted to deal with the Scientific Aspects of Christian Evidences[1] than Professor Wright. He is both a man of science and a theologian; a trusted professor in an orthodox seminary who is at the same time a fearless investigator of the geological record and of the antiquity of man—and even a sturdy advocate of Glacial man. He is thus bound by the very nature of his attitude to give fair and even attention to both aspects of the question he sets out to discuss. He begins by admitting that Christianity is not capable of demonstrative proof, and is open to objections not easy to answer; but, he retorts, it is not alone among well-founded beliefs in being thus situated. In a large number of cases it is unreasonable to demand such proof. From a philosophical point of view, even modern science is more superficial than it is popularly represented to be, and has often to assume and even depend upon data that it can not prove or even comprehend. Its great advances have in reality only slightly touched the true basis of religious hope and aspiration. After showing that there are limitations to scientific thought and enumerating some of the paradoxes which science has to encounter in basing its fundamental principles, Professor Wright defines the view of God's relation to Nature most generally held by Christian philosophers as being that the operations of Nature go on in the main by virtue of forces communicated in the beginning but subject to insulated and systematic interpositions expressing the divine will. This leads to the question of miracles, of which "the economy of the strictly miraculous element in the Bible can never cease to be a surprise to the scientific students of human history." Such events as the Flood, the passage of the Red Sea, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are accounted for as having been brought about by the regular operation of natural laws, while the miraculous element in them lay in the co-ordination by which they were made to concur with other incidents to produce a special result. Concerning the grand culminating miracle of the wonderful life and the death and resurrection of Christ, it is shown that an unbroken chain of evidence exists from eyewitnesses down; and it has been re-enforced by very recent discoveries of documents composed by authors removed by at most only a single life from the possibility of personal communication with eyewitnesses. While these evidences, as well as evidences of the accuracy of Old Testament history, have always been ample, the author now finds them superabundant. "The question, then, which we are brought to face [concerning the story of Christ] is, Were the Christians of the first century under a delusion?" To this the last pages of the book are devoted.

The amusement and interest of watching a child's gradual initiation into the mysteries of "things" is best known to the "better half" of the community. But even our mothers do not properly appreciate that with this entertainment may be gathered much information of scientific value—of value not only for use in the bringing up of other children, but also because of the light which it may throw on the more difficult problems of general psychology. These thoughts have been brought to mind by a reading of Dr. Sully's Children's Ways.[2] The book consists of selections from the author's recently published Studies of Childhood. The somewhat abstruse discussions and the technical language of the psychologist, which were present in the first work, have been done away with, and the style and subject-matter adapted to the needs of the general reader. The book may perhaps be summed up imperfectly as a popular study of the various instincts, emotions, and habits of mind of the average child as exhibited in the several stages of his progress to a realizing sense of his true relation to his surroundings. The results and dangers of certain thoughtless modes of treatment and early education, and the means which should be taken for eliminating, as far as possible, the numerous barbarous atavisms which are manifested in the human young one are pointed out. Regarding the much-discussed question of the moral nature of the child, Dr. Sully very happily says: "So far from saying that child nature is utterly bad or beautifully perfect, we should say that it is a disorderly jumble of impulses, each pushing itself upward in lively contest with the others, some toward what is bad, others toward what is good. It is on this motley group of tendencies that the hand of the moral cultivator has to work, selecting, arranging, organizing into a beautiful whole." Some amusing stories, which are told as illustrating various typical characteristics of childhood, form a charming adjunct to the more strictly practical text. The book is extremely interesting reading, and should prove suggestive and instructive, especially to mothers, who are as individuals most unfortunately prone to look on the latest comer as simply "my baby," and to lose sight of the future in the immediate emotional pleasure of pleasing him. Dr. Sully suffers somewhat from this same fault of over-enthusiasm, occasionally allowing his interest to get the better of his judgment; but many will consider this a happy fault in these extremely practical days. On the whole it seems to us that this condensation of the "Studies" was well conceived, and that if it gains the circulation its importance deserves we may look to see a marked improvement in the observation and training of children.

A better characterization can hardly be made of Mr. Means's sober book on Industrial Freedom[3] than that given by Mr. Wells in the introduction which he furnishes to it. Its aim, he says, is to show that no good can come out of the proposals that are made for legislative interference between employer and employed or out of socialistic schemes. "The author considers the existing methods of distributing the products of human activity by means of the wages system, and demonstrates that it tends to establish working people in a state of independence rather than of subjection; to promote industrial freedom and not to produce 'industrial slavery.' He shows how intimately the welfare of laborers is connected with the prosperity of their employers, and how the attempts to diminish the wealth of corporations may diminish the fund of capital out of which laborers are paid. He points out the dangers that arise from the misapplication and abuse of the taxing power, and indicates the peculiar evils to which such abuses will lead under our form of government." The complaint for which the schemes in question are offered as a remedy is defined by the author as being that after all proper allowances are made the differences in the distribution of the comforts and enjoyments of life are excessive and unjust. The argument opposed to this idea recognizes the fact that socialism implies the surrender of the freedom of the laborer, with the expectation that it will be more than made up for by the increase of his compensation. Existing conditions and relations are then surveyed to find whether any substitute for the existing organization can be adopted that will work better. If not, "meddling will cause more injustice than it will remove." Besides the relations of individual employers and corporations and their employed, monopoly privileges, the partnership theory, the limitation of the rate of wages, and the nature of profits and the effects of reducing them are reviewed. Social improvement must come, ultimately, through the increase of integrity and honesty among men. Honesty will not be likely to increase when the principle of regard for property and respect for existing rights ceases to be cherished. Conscientious and cultivated men are warned of the responsibility that rests upon them. The movement toward the establishment of socialism will leave ineradicable traces in the shape of laws that can hardly be repealed, institutions that will be permanently mischievous, and debts that will burden children yet unborn. The greatest danger that threatens our republic lies in this tendency.

  1. Scientific Aspects of Christian Evidences. By G. Frederick Wright. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 362. Price, $1.
  2. Children's Ways. By James Sully, M. A., LL. D. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 193. Price, $1.25.
  3. Industrial Freedom. By David MacGregor Means. With an Introduction by the Hon. David A. Wells. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp.248. Price, $1.50.