Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/64

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52
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tain. Our views of history underwent some change, and Charles I was removed from our roll of the army of martyrs. The revered sentences of the Catechism, which so tersely told the origin and destiny of all things, the nature and intentions of the Supreme Cause, were submitted to tests which left them of somewhat less force than of old. The maturing powers of reason passed judgment on the authorities, left some of them undisputed, regarded others as approaching correctness with more or less probability, and placed others, again, in the category of unsupported assertion.

As a typical case of allowable and legitimate authority, let us take the statement by Dr. Tyndall, that watery vapor, suspended in the atmosphere, acts as a powerful absorbent of heat radiant from the earth. We accept the statement because it is undisputed by physicists who are competent to execute tests of it, and because, should we choose to become instructed in the methods of research which Dr. Tyndall employs, we could verify his conclusions as many inquirers have done. Genuine authority gives us proofs, it predicts, and fulfillment follows: The geologist declares that certain strata may be coal-bearing; we sink a shaft and find the fuel. The meteorologist forecasts the weather twenty-four hours ahead, and the skies verify his prognostications. Venus, we are told from the observatory, is to cross the solar disk at a specified time, and punctually to the instant the planet appears. From elaborate consideration of the molecular groupings of certain compounds of carbon, a German chemist thought that a substance which he sought to build up from its elements would possess great beauty and value as a dye-stuff. Success rewarded his patient labor, and a new hue was placed at the disposal of the textile manufacturer. The kind of authority which men of scientific achievement exert, and which all men of special gifts of talent and character enjoy, is an authority to which we owe intelligent and cheerful allegiance. The world advances by leadership of this kind and by loyalty to such leadership. But, when a theologian says that the world was made from nothing, that man was created from the dust of the earth by instantaneous fiat, and then caused to be tempted to his fall—when we find all these assumptions made the basis of an elaborate and definite scheme of supernatural theology—we confront what seems to us the authority of unproved assertion, which reason questions and science ignores.

The history of every thinking man, in his separation of the authorities contending around him for obedience into valid and invalid, is a summary in some sort of the history of the race in its gradual emancipation from dictatorship in science, in the state, and in theology. The records of science show us the common case where men of extraordinary genius have risen so high above their fellows as to excite reverence for their results, rather than emulation of their methods. The price paid by mankind for towering ability has often been the production of generations of mere quoters and commentators, who revered the