Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/June 1875/Editor's Table

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 7 June 1875  (1875) 
Editor's Table
 

EDITOR'S TABLE.
DRAPER AND HIS CRITICS.

DR. DRAPER has reason for gratitude to his friends, and doubly so to his enemies. He wrote a bold book upon a subject never before separately treated, and by a large portion of the press it lias been received with favor as a valuable and important contribution to the serious thought of the time. The interest in the subject, the reputation of its author, and the cordial commendation of many critics, were certain to secure the work a fair measure of success; but, on the other hand, a considerable number of writers were enraged by it, and, with the usual folly of passion, have execrated it into about thrice the circulation that it would otherwise have had. It is to be hoped they will learn that things are often overruled, in this world, to ends not contemplated by their contrivers. This, however, lends no excuse to bad practices, and those who have unscrupulously attacked Dr. Draper's work are to be held to account for it, just the same as if they had not overreached themselves in the result aimed at.

The honest and intelligent criticism of his book will, no doubt, be respected by its author, and objections to its reasonings and conclusions will probably be taken into careful consideration; while, if convinced of their validity, he maybe expected to indicate it in future editions of the volume. But by a very considerable portion of the religious press, and by many secular journals, the editors of which know where to flatter and where to abuse, with a view to brisk sales, the book has been vehemently denounced. Scribner's Monthly, for example, published in March an admirable article on the "Indecencies of Criticism," and the same number contained a "criticism". of Dr. Draper's work, illustrating them so perfectly as to raise the suspicion that such was its design. The frothy invective that has been copiously poured out under the name of criticism is, of course, not worth noticing; nor shall we trouble ourselves with the various petty objections that have been raised, and that are so easy to raise, against a work of this character. But one criticism, particularly, deserves attention, because it lies against the whole reason and purpose of the book, and has been made on all sides; in fact, it forms the only unanimous basis of attack on the part of Dr. Draper's assailants. It is said that his work is a fiction, and represents no reality; that his subject is an illusion, his title a misnomer, and his book a mere figment of the imagination. He professes, it is said, to write a "History of the Conflict between Religion and Science," when there is not, and never has been, any such real conflict, and therefore no possibility of its history. The organs of all the orthodox denominations are in emphatic accord upon this point, and even the outside sects—Jews, Unitarians, and Catholics, whom the orthodox repudiate as beyond the pale of Christianity, as knowing nothing of true religion—take precisely the same ground in regard to Dr. Draper's work. The Jewish Times, for example, says: "Is there really a conflict between science and religion? We answer emphatically, no! There is no such conflict! there can be no such conflict!" Dr. Thomas Hill, in the Unitarian Review, says of Draper's book, that "so far from giving us a history of the conflict between science and religion, it gives us nothing to show that such a conflict ever existed;" and Dr. Brownson, at the Roman Catholic extreme, declares of our author's volume, "He professes to give in it the history of the conflict between religion and science, or of a conflict that has never occurred, and never can occur." There is, at all events, little conflict here, but an harmonious strain of denial of the legitimacy of Dr. Draper's subject, all along the line, and which reaches even to the dubious borders of that which is recognized as no religion at all.

What, now, are we to make of this? It can hardly be that these diverse parties have solemnly conspired to perpetrate a huge joke; and we can only suppose that they are serious at the expense of their intelligence. Religion and science have certainly coexisted in the world for a long time, and they have both figured pretty largely in human thought and human affairs. They must have had some relations with each other, and these relations must have had a definite character. If they have not been in conflict, then they have been out of conflict, or in harmony. Those who deny the antagonism must affirm the opposite, or that the relations of religion and science are, and always have been, those of concord and harmony. But, if this be so, let it be understood that Dr. Draper's work is not the only one that is discredited. What means the multitude of books that have been written professedly to bring these subjects into harmony? There is a vast body of theological literature, going back for centuries, that is devoted to the work of reconciling religion and science. Whole libraries of such literature have been consecrated to the harmonization of separate and special phases of that relation. Generation after generation have spent a large part of their theological force in reconciling Christian doctrine which has been held as religion, with astronomical, geological, biological, and ethnological science. If Dr. Draper is a romancer, then all this must also go to the account of romance. If there has been no conflict, then there could be no reconciliation, for the attempt to reconcile that which is already harmonious is absurd. If it be said that our ignorant predecessors may have fancied a hostility which we now know to be unreal, the reply is, that the work of reconciliation was never so rife as to-day. We could run The Popular Science Monthly alone on the papers we receive from the theological side, aiming to harmonize present religious thought with the present condition of science, Why this vigorous and comprehensive effort to harmonize the already harmonious? The religious periodicals abound in discussions aiming to compose the alleged differences and discords of religion and science; and there pours from the press a continuous stream of books devoted to the same end. An impending volume of eight hundred pages is announced by a correspondent of the Evening Post, who gives an analysis of its contents, and remarks: "The conflict between science and religion as to man's origin on this planet has been so ardent, and the interest which men of culture the world over feel in the subject is so deep and growing, that I can hardly be mistaken in supposing that the readers of the Evening Post will be pleased to receive a synopsis of Mr. Southall's book, the proof-sheets of which I have been kindly permitted to examine. He combats the views of Lyell, Lubbock, Evans, Lartet, De Mortillet, Nillson, Worsaae, Désor, and others, that man is several hundred thousand years old, or, as Mr. Geikie and Mr. Boyd Dawkins, in their recent books put it, preglacial," Again: "The book will provoke a deal of criticism in scientific and religious circles. Persons far more competent than the present writer to pronounce judgment upon its merits, do not hesitate to say that it is the most important contribution yet made in America to the theological side of this weighty subject." Of course, "the theological side," which holds that there is no such thing as "the conflict between science and religion," "ardent" or otherwise, will at once proceed to squelch this superfluous writer; and when they have done so, and repudiated the folly and futility of all other books of the same class, and dried up the discussion in their periodicals, it will be time to talk to Dr. Draper about the illusiveness of the subject-matter of his history. There is something not a little ludicrous in the attitude of those who are lustily continuing a fight that is centuries old, and, when the history of it comes to be written, suddenly turn nonresistants, and protest that it is all a mistake, and that there has really never been any conflict at all! Can it be that it is because they would rather not have the history appear?

But it will be said that truth can never be in conflict with itself; that religious truth and scientific truth must harmonize, and that any apparent antagonism is due to prejudice and imperfect knowledge. Granted; but this concedes the fact of a conflict, and only proposes a theory of its cause. The harmony affirmed is not a harmony realized, but rather hoped for, as a possibility of the future, to which present broad and thorough investigation is tending; and with this we entirely agree. But the hope of a state of things yet to be reached cannot be made a ground of denial of what is, and has been. It is maintained that, at bottom, there is no real conflict between capital and labor, and many indulge the anticipation that their relations will be ultimately harmonized; but he who denies that there is now any such conflict had better spend a few days in the mining districts of Pennsylvania, where for months this conflict has threatened the peace of society. It is also held that the true and highest interest of nations is that of concord, and many think that the world will yet grow into international amity and unity; but shall we therefore deny the past existence of war, and discredit as groundless all our histories of international hostility? The case of religion and science is exactly parallel. However they may finally be brought into accord, they certainly are not in that relation now, and no antagonism of the past has been more deep and unrelenting, and more defiant of all efforts at adjustment, than this. The conflict between religion and science, or between the study of Nature and the tracing out of its order, and the systems of belief that claim a religious character, is as much a reality of human experience as the collisions of nations, and just as much a proper subject for the historian.

Dr. Draper has been much reproached for not defining what he means by religion. There is no complaint that he has not defined science, because no need of it is felt; everybody understands what science is. But it is not so with religion. The theological world is full of dispute and contention as to what religion is. It is loudly declared by the theological party that science and religion are in harmony, and then the theological groups fall straightway to battling over the initial question as to what constitutes religion! Each group assumes it to be what its members believe, and what those with different beliefs do not possess. The reverend representative of the Unitarians, Dr. Hill, says of the oldest and most numerous Christian communion: "The hostility of this corrupted Church toward science was no greater than its hostility to religion; religion and science, twin forms of truth, were alike persecuted by this dragon; and it is both an injury and insult to Religion to ascribe to her the evil deeds of those who hate her, and wore her name simply as a cloak for their political ambition and their intolerant pride. For every martyr of science, history can show a thousand martyrs of religion slain by the ecclesiastical powers of Rome." But the representative of the "dragon," at the opposite wing, is ready with his reply to this Unitarian Gentile. Dr. Brownson says: "Christianity teaches that Gentilism is apostacy from God and from his truth, and that so far from being his worship it is the worship of devils. We protest, therefore, against the logic that concludes that what it finds true of Gentilism is and must be true of Christianity. We protest also against concluding that, because Protestantism is a congeries of absurdities. Catholicity is unreasonable and false. Gentilism and Protestantism may stand in the same category or be simply varieties of the same species; but they are specifically, generically different from Christianity." And between these two extremes there is a crowd of sects which agree in little else than in dismissing the Catholics and Unitarians to perdition as destitute of all religion! Dr. Draper, it is evident, would have complicated his case to little purpose had he gone into definitions, and thus virtually assumed to decide, among these conflicting claimants, which has the true religion. For historical purposes Dr. Draper was compelled to take broad views, and to recognize as religious all bodies of people who combine and organize for religious ends, profess religious faith, and make claims to religious character, giving prominence in his treatment of the subject to those who have been historically most prominent, and are most responsible for theological resistance to the reception of scientific ideas.

 

 
WITH REFERENCE TO SPELLING.

The severity of the spelling-school contagion is manifestly abating. This is well, for we are told that public excitements are dangerous to reason, intense and prolonged spasms, religious or social, generally ending in a new accession of recruits for the lunatic asylum. It is an interesting question what degree of fervor, extent, and duration of spelling-matches would be required to reduce the general mind to a condition of imbecility. Life is full of contradictions, and we can rarely go a mile with our logic: to misspell our language is a sin, while to reach the height of orthographic virtue may involve intellectual suicide.

We recollect a wave of excitement that passed over us a few years ago in relation to spelling, a feature or two of which may be worth recalling. A veteran school-teacher of New York dropped a hurried line to a newspaper, in which two or three words were wrongly spelled. It was a dull season for news and excitement, and so, in its enterprise, journalism sat on this old party, and his life was darkened. He has since gone to that undiscovered country where it is to be hoped that Webster and Worcester have never been heard of; but he has left us struggling with the beggarly elements of a barbarous orthography, and no better off for the storm of reproach to which he was a martyr. His fellow-teachers came to the rescue with indignant letters to the editor, and that remorseless personage published them, bad spelling and all, every time. "Behold," said he, "the state of American education, when its masters are unable to spell their native language!" There seemed no question that the highest achievement of the human mind was to put letters together in exact accordance with some authority; and that to drop or transpose a letter, in the tens of thousands of their arbitrary combinations, that form the words of our language, was an offense that should consign its perpetrator to everlasting ignominy. The thing was all going one way until there arose a rebellious voice in the East, which said to the editor: "Let me take advantage of the present spelling excitement to fatten a grudge I bear against the literary world." The soul that had been thus stirred to utterance was that of Elizur Wright, and he went on, in his pungent way, to say: "A school-master who does not spell correctly by somebody's system should go abroad and stay there. But just here it is that my indignation kindles. Why do we have these illiterate school-masters? I do not stop to blame weak or careless committees: the trouble lies higher. The great masters of English literature, the lawgivers of our language, are such bunglers or charlatans in their own profession, that they ought to be ashamed to fling a pebble at the worst of spellers, or even at the inventor of Egyptian hieroglyphics." After venting his wrath upon the conservators of the present "imperfect, unreasonable, stupid, false plan of visualizing the vocal tongue," he thus proceeds:

"The misery of the matter is, that it is difficult to get any but blockheads to teach such a blockhead system. We do uncommonly well when we get hold of pedantic dances who can teach spelling with a vengeance, and perhaps the shell of grammar. Of course, I do not deny that there are some literary saints, of unquestionable genius, who devote or doom themselves to a painful inculcation into the memories of reluctant or rebellious youth of all the incongruities, contradictions, riddles, and sphinx-puzzles of English orthography." And again: "English orthography is congenial only with stupidity; and, after thirty or forty years of occasional observation in regard to it, I am of opinion that good and successful teachers of spelling can seldom write a page without misspelling several words."

And this is the writer's significant climax: "Of another thing I have no doubt at all, to wit, that learning to spell is a discipline pernicious to good mental habits. The minds of unschooled children are eager for facts and the reasons of them; and they are not satisfied with a reason till they see its force. But, after they have been schooled through the inconsequential mysteries of the spelling-book, where a reason has less chance of living than a mouse in a vacuum, they are ready to swallow any thing the book or the teacher says, with a leaden quietude. No thanks to the portico of our literature, if they do not continue to take things on trust, as long as there is any thing to be so taken."

There is a truth in these last remarks which deserves from educators a great deal more serious attention than it has yet received. No one will deny that our spelling is irrational; and, if so, just to that degree the art of spelling is an irrational practice; that is, it is a practice which, in the first place, calls for no exercise of the reasoning faculty; and, second, it is an exercise which continually violates the dictates of reason. The pupil who should spell a word as reason dictates would be flogged, or in some other way disgraced before the school. On the other hand, the pupil that can bring his mind into the most perfect harmony with an irrational system, can go on perpetrating absurdities the longest without failing, wins prizes and applause. This certainly cannot conduce to good mental habits. The child is born into a world of real objects and relations, and the mind grows through experience in acquiring ideas of these actual things. Discrimination, comparison, inference, reasoning, judgment, are all elements of early mental activity, and, in fact, constitute the intellect. Mental growth consists essentially in strengthening and extending these operations on newly-acquired and newly-combined ideas. These rudimentary processes of the infantine intellect are of exactly the same nature as the perfected processes of scientific and philosophic intellects; and it is the true office of education to lead them out, or guide their unfolding from lower to higher states. Written language must be called in at an early stage, as an indispensable help in this upward progress. Yet, such is the imperfect character of this new instrument, and such the bungling of many who teach its use, that the child is quite as apt to be hindered and stopped by it, in its mental course, as helped on. Nay, when we remember that this is the most critical stage of mental unfolding the taking of the child out of Nature,—as far as that can be done, and immersing it in the school where irrational mental practices are arbitrarily enforced—it is no exaggeration to say that more mind is extinguished than is led out, and that the school-room is as liable to become a mental slaughter-house of the innocents as a place of healthy education. When a child enters school, there should be no break in its earlier mental unfolding; but this is just what generally occurs. Instead of going on with its normal mental exercises, it is turned off into artificial mental exercises. Instead of still employing its thought mainly upon the properties and relations of things, symbols are substituted for things, and the whole action of the mind becomes a manipulation of symbols. The memory is not only loaded with verbal signs, but these are arbitrary and contradictory; and an accuracy is exacted in retaining them which consumes an immense proportion of the time, and, after working great mental mischief, generally ends in failure. Tolerable spelling is, of course, an important thing, but we do not believe in dwarfing or stupefying the mind to gain it. Let it be taught incidentally, and in subordination to the regular exercise of the higher faculties, and the end will be better served than by trying to make it the prime accomplishment of education. Perhaps, in regard to so fundamental a reform, but little is to be expected from the present generation of teachers; but, happily for the hopes of humanity, there is an arrangement by which the present generation of teachers is destined to be taken out of the way.