Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/611

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SCIENTIFIC DABBLERS.

plainly, since he is ignorant of that which he expounds, it is better for him to leave common things to common minds, and, by discussing the loftier questions of the day, get greater credit for wisdom from those who are equally ignorant with himself. He is safer from overthrow in speculating upon unsettled theories than in attempting to explain that which has been well demonstrated.

Probably the majority of Americans get their ideas upon scientific questions from the newspaper and the pulpit. The meagre quantities of scientific lore picked up in the common schools, and in most of the colleges, are scarcely important enough to be worth noticing; and the knowledge doled out in the form of popular lectures is so often beaten up into froth, to suit the tastes of those who listen merely to kill time, that it may also be left out of question. But, week after week, the clergy hurl forth their anathemas against the profanities of science, and, day after day, the newspapers quote the sayings of the popular reviews. And but too frequently clergymen and journalists are both mere scientific dabblers. Not always, but woefully often. Quite naturally, then, much of the information given is practically worthless. The really important discoveries are rarely noticed until they are years old, for these retailers of scientific gossip scarcely ever know what is of value, and generally content themselves with giving remarkable theories, broached by intellectual quacks, or brilliant illustrations of principles, with the principles themselves left out. The surface is given, but the meanings lying beneath are neglected.

Now and then, however, a startling theory is put forward by some eminent scientist, or, after lying comparatively unnoticed for years, is lifted into sudden prominence. And, presto! down sweep the clergy upon it as opposed to religion; and the newspapers, roused by the noise, add their dubious ridicule to the forces of the Church. Only the press is generally less conservative than the pulpit. Its attacks are not nearly so virulent as those of the theologian.

And unquestionably these assaults do some good. They advertise the theory, set people to thinking, and, in some measure, stimulate the advance of the truth. Had it not been for Romish persecution, Galileo's views might have been much slower in gaining ground; and it is likely that, if the English pulpit had made less vigorous attack upon young Geology, there might still have been educated men believing in the literal six days' creation and the universal deluge. And yet it is worth noticing, in this connection, that a book has been published in England, within the past two years, which is meant to show that the earth is not a globe, and that the sun revolves around it. The author's chief arguments are that "water is level," and that his views are scriptural. He calls Newton a "lunatic" (these are the words of his prospectus)., and the Astronomical Society a set of "professional liars." Equally ridiculous statements upon scientific matters may be heard from popular lecturers and writers nearly every day.