Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/June 1882/Editor's Table
|←Sketch of Charles R. Darwin, LL.D.|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 21 June 1882 (1882)
CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN.
THE present year will be memorable in the history of science as bringing to a close the labors of two illustrious scientific thinkers—one, perhaps, the most eminent man of science in America, Dr. John William Draper, and the other probably the most celebrated scientific man of the world at the present time, Dr. Charles Robert Darwin. Both men had accomplished their work, the former dying at the age of seventy-one, and the latter at the age of seventy-three; and it is remarkable that both were among the most distinguished representatives of the same school of progressive scientific thought. Their names will be for ever associated with that great revolution of ideas for which all modern science has prepared, but which has been accomplished only within the present generation. Both men made large and important contributions, by observation and experiment, to the departments of science which they respectively cultivated, but they will be measured in future chiefly by the bearing of their work upon the great intellectual movement of the period.
Everybody knows what we mean in speaking of the movement of thought with which the names of Draper and Darwin are identified; and which we have referred to as a revolution of ideas already accomplished. One of its leading aspects is the application of the scientific method to the phenomena of life in order to explain their changes by natural causes. Mr. Darwin's name has been so closely associated with this extension of scientific method to cover the origin of the diversities of living beings upon earth that he has come to be a representative of the idea; while the term "Darwinism" has been vaguely employed to stand for the doctrine.
The twenty volumes of "The Popular Science Monthly" bear uniform and abundant record that "Darwinism" has been generally accepted as true in the world of science for the last ten years. But there is a sharper test of the change of opinion that has taken place than any affirmation regarding the verdicts of scientific men. At its earliest promulgation "Darwinism" was denounced by the whole body of religious authorities as false and execrable. There was never such unanimity in the pulpit as was displayed in cursing the new apostle of the doctrine of man's descent from an ancestry of inferior animals. The devil got a considerable respite while the batteries were all being turned upon Darwin as the archenemy and subverter of all religion. But, as the movement of ideas went on all the same, common sense began to assert itself in various quarters, so that there has latterly been more temperateness of condemnation, and even a readiness to accept the long-detested doctrine as probably true, and by no means so bad as it at first seemed. And, now that Darwin is dead, there is a universal burst of admiration for the man, accompanied by abundant admissions that his ideas are true; and he is laid in Westminster Abbey alongside of Newton, while the most eminent preachers of London agree in declaring that there has been nothing in his teaching that is not wholly consistent with the soundest Christian belief. Canon Liddon, of St. Paul's, author of "The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," is reported to have said in a sermon that "Mr. Darwin's theories are not necessarily hostile to the fundamental truths of religion"; and Canon Barry, author of "Orthodox Commentaries on Portions of the EDITOR'S TABLE.
��ble," declared that "the doctrine of evolution lent itse^ as readily to prom- ises of God as less complete explana- tions of the universe."
To explain the world-wide fame of Mr. Darwin and the expressions of high appreciation that have been elicited by his death, several circumstances must be taken into account. In the first place, his pre-eminence as a naturalist is not for a moment to be questioned. He had a genius for investigation in this field, as is shown by the immense amount of valuable and original work that he has accomplished. As an ac- curate and indefatigable observer, of keen insight, and equally fertile and skillful in his experimental devices to bring out the secrets of Nature, he was probably without a rival. Descended from a race of naturalists, he seemed to have a constitutional intuition for penetrating the mysteries of living be- ings, and detecting subtilties that had eluded previous observers. Patient, in- dustrious, and concentrated upon his work, he has enriched natural history with a multitude of new facts, which will make his name an authoritv for all future time.
But Mr. Darwin was more than a mere observer and accumulator of facts ; he was a man of ideas capable of meth- odising his observations and making them tributary to the progress of theo- retical views. He found the problem of the origin of the diversities of living beings unsettled, he subordinated all his researches to its solution, and he put forth a theory upon the subject that has made him famous. This was the principle of natural selection, called also the survival' of the fittest, and it was elaborated with a wealth of il- lustration that rapidly commended it to the acceptance of the scientific world. In a nutshell it is this : There is a law of heredity, or descent of traits, from generation to generation, in the kingdom of organic life a law under which " like produceSyLike." But there
��is also a law of variation by which like always produces the slightly un- like a modification from generation to generation, and adaptation to ever- changing conditions. At the same time the rate of multiplication gives rise to a destructive struggle for existence, in which multitudes perish and but com- paratively few survive, while the sur- vivors are those best fitted to the new conditions. In this way new charac- ters are strengthened and developed, and old traits are weakened and disap- pear, so that the progress of life is at the same time a slow transformation, in which at first new varieties and then new species gradually arise by minute increments of change. Thus the diver- sities among living creatures are ac- counted for by the operation of natural agencies.
But, besides the intrinsic character of his work, the traits of the man were eminently calculated to produce the most favorable impression. He was not a controversialist, and, instead of going roughly athwart men's prejudices, he was kindly, considerate, and concilia- tory in all his writings. He was also modest and eminently candid and fair- minded, always seeking to do justice to the views of his opponents. Men felt that his supreme object was simply to get at the truth. For this he labored in- cessantly and untiringly, and thus won the respect of all who can appreciate sincerity of aim and elevation of pur- pose. Added to this he was a very ge- nial and pleasant man in his personal relations, and most highly regarded by those who were honored with his ac- quaintance and friendship.
But still other elements must be taken into account in explaining the extent of his popularity. He was a remarkably fortunate man. We refer not so much to his easy circumstances, which gave him command of resources and allowed full consecration to a life of study ; but we mean that he came at a great crisis of thought, when a lead-
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��er was wanted in a comprehensive sci- entific field. It was his happy fortune to avail himself of a previous advance of biological inquiry, which was much greater than is generally supposed. Mr. Darwin has himself fully pointed out to what various extents his idea of nat- ural selection had been discerned by preceding naturalists. It was a discov- ery all ready to be made, and how in- evitably it grew out of the state of knowledge that had been attained, and how imminent it was in the thought of the time, is shown by the fact that he was compelled to publish on the sub- ject earlier than he had intended, to prevent being anticipated by Mr. Alfred Eussel "Wallace, who had already ar- rived at and worked out the same prin- ciple. It was fortunate for the fame of Mr. Darwin that Mr. Wallace so grace- fully and generously stepped aside, and surrendered to him the full leadership of the new biological reform.
Nor is it to be forgotten, in enumer- ating the causes that have conspired to give such prominence to the name and fame of Darwin, that his subject was one of intense and universal interest. No matter how unpalatable were the theories proposed, everybody was con- cerned with questions of the origin of life, because they involved explanations of human origin. Whence we came has always been a riddle which there has been an irrepressible curiosity to solve. Mr. Darwin's explanation came in the name of science, and, apparently involving but a single principle of such simplicity and familiar illustration that everybody could understand it, his lit- tle book was sought for and read with avidity by all 'classes. And yet, in the nature of things, it was impossible that the work should be generally under- stood with any thoroughness. It dealt with an order of ideas for which our higher education made no preparation, so that the college graduate was little better equipped than the uneducated country farmer to read intelligently and
��appreciatingly the argument of the " Origin of Species." There was, con- sequently, a great deal of popular con- fusion and misapprehension as to what Mr. Darwin had really done, and which naturally led to erroneous and even ex- travagant claims as to the nature and scope of his work. To those who were not well instructed he came to be re- garded as the creator of an epoch and the originator of the whole scheme of ideas connected with his investigations. We see this in the tendency to attribute to Mr. Darwin the fatherhood of the law of evolution, and to identify evolu- tion with Darwinism. He contributed to that universal law a most important principle, but he was neither its founder nor did he ever attempt anything like its general exposition. That great doc- trine had been overwhelmingly proved, had been resolved into its forces, for- mulated, and extensively applied to the reorganization of scientific knowl- edge, before Mr. Darwin had ever published a word upon the subject. He has done noble work, and his posi- tion is for ever assured among the greatest in science ; and, if circum- stances have tended to favor some ex- aggeration of his real claims, we may leave to time the correction of imper- fect judgments, and the equitable award of all honors among those to whom honors are due.
��A VERY MODERN REPROACH.
Commenting, two months ago, upon Goldwin Smith's article attacking sci- entific ethics, we pointed out the exten- sive co-existence of supernatural beliefs with a lax morality. The " Christian Union," under the title of " A Very An- cient Reproach," charges " The Popular Science Review " with reviving a stale old accusation of Thomas Paine. It, moreover, attempts to confound us with " History," and offers a quotation from Gibbon, declaring that through conversions by the early Church " the
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��most abandoned sinners " in many cases became " the most eminent saints." The " Union " then proceeds to remark : " If ' The Popular Science Monthly ' de- sires further information as to the act- ual effect which evangelical religion has produced on the morals of the com- munity, it will be found in abundance in Lecky's ' History of European Mor- als,' in the same author's ' flistory of England in the Eighteenth Century,' and in Professor Draper's ' History of the Intellectual Development of Eu- rope,' and none of these authors can be accused of being eulogists of Christian- ity. "We leave the ' Review ' to settle it with Gibbon which horn of the dilemma it will accept."
We have no issue with Lecky or Draper, and nothing to settle with Gib- bon. If we had no other source of in- formation respecting the relations of faith and morals as manifested in hu- man conduct, than what was written a hundred years ago about what took place sixteen hundred years earlier, it | would be different ; but the illustrations of the relation of religious belief to ethical practice are too clear, familiar, and impressive all around us to make this course necessary. On living ques- tions we prefer living authorities, and judgments based upon immediate ob- servation and experience, to historic in- ferences regarding what took place at remote periods. Accordingly, we value the testimony of the editor of the " Christian Union " higher than even that of Gibbon, while his record is far more to the point. The article entitled "A Very Ancient Reproach " is imme- diately followed by another which serves as an instructive comment upon it by showing that the " reproach " is also both very modern and very real. Its title is "A Missouri Saint," and the editor writes upon the subject with an openness which " The Popular Science Monthly " has never emulated. He says:
St. James St. Jesse James is the latest
��contribution of America to the noble army of saints and martyrs.
Death seems to settle all accounts ; and no sooner was this murderous villain dead, than the whole community set to work with extraordinary unanimity to canonize him. His funeral was an ovation ; the attendant throng crowded the Baptist church, " where he was converted in 1866 " heavens ! what sort of a man would he have been if he had not been converted? the sheriff and under-sheriff acted among the pall-bearers ; the services were opened with the hymn "What a friend we have in Jesus!" the officiating ministers comforted the stricken community with extracts from the plaints of Job and David, and with a comforting dis- course on Christ's forbearance and forgive- ness of sins ; and, finally, the procession to the grave was one of immense proportions.
Out upon such a religion as this ! If a Dr. Thomas intimates that there may be perhaps a probation in another world for those who seem to have had no true probation in this, he is turned out of the fellowship of the church as a heretic. If a Mr. Jones and a Mr. Martin send a freebooter and a life-long robber and murderer straight to heaven in a chariot of fire without as much as a baptismal bath by the way, will any church call them to account for their falseness to the law of God and the sacredness of morality? We shall see.
Excellent, certainly ! But, if exactly the same sentiments, only pitched in a lower key of indignation, appear in "The Popular Science Monthly," we are accused of reviving the obsolete re- proaches of infidelity, and the " Chris- tian Advocate " breaks into a pious dia- tribe about " Sugar-coated Poison."
The view of the " Christian Union " is well confirmed by "The Nation," as follows :
James's relations to the Church, too, had a curiously mediaeval flavor about them. He was the son of a Baptist minister, but his career apparently did not strike his mother, or any of his family or neighbors, as incon- sistent with the possession of a stock of fun- damental and ineradicable piety. When ho died, she rejoiced in the thought that he had gone to heaven. Two Baptist ministers per- formed the funeral services, and a vast con- course of friends, including the sheriff, who was deeply affected, followed the remains to the grave, not son-owing, apparently, as those
�� � who are without hope. In fact, the James territory, which includes the adjacent corners of four States, is a region which seems closely to resemble in its religious and moral condition a Frankish kingdom in Gaul in the sixth century. Every one knows how very early in the history of the Church the tendency to make faith take the place of right-living began to show itself. St. James had to warn the very first generation of Christians that pure religion and undefiled consisted not in sound belief, but in good deeds. The difficulty of making people show their faith by their works has beset Christianity ever since. Barbarians rapidly accepted the Christian dogmas, and took eagerly to the rites and ceremonies of the Church, but they never were quite ready to accept its views about behavior. Gregory of Tours, in his most instructive chronicle, tells some very grotesque stories of the difficulties which the bishops had in Gaul in his day in refusing the communion to notorious evil livers. One Frankish chief—a great robber and cut-throat—insisted on having it administered to him, and the bishop had to let him have it, in order to save life, for he threatened to kill all the other communicants if he was not allowed to partake also. The comfort the Italian and Greek brigands find in the external observances of their creed, while committing the most atrocious crimes, is now an old story. A skeptical or agnostic robber is in fact unknown in Eastern or Southern Europe.
The devout brigands all belong to the Catholic or Greek Church, which has always greatly exalted the value of external worship and pious credulity, and thus furnishes only too much temptation to those who are ready to believe without limitation for the purpose of postponing any change in their habits. The Protestant Church has been much more exacting in the matter of conduct, and in fact has afforded in its teaching but few of the refuges for easy-going sinners which its great rival provides so plentifully. But the fight between faith and right-living nevertheless rages within its borders unceasingly, and not always to the advantage of the latter. It is not only in the James district in Missouri that one comes on the strange compromises by which a certain external devoutness is made to atone to the conscience not only for spiritual coldness, but for long and persistent violations of the fundamental rules of morality. Startling as are these revelations about the state of society in that part of the country, they are hardly more startling, everything considered, than the frequency with which our defaulters and embezzlers in this part of the world prove to have been vestry-men, deacons, Sunday-school superintendents, and prominent church-members during long years of delinquency and perfidy.