Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/130

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Messrs. Editors.

AFTER the publication of President Seelye's peculiar statement with respect to the teaching at Amherst College regarding the law of evolution, feeling a graduate's interest in the matter, I made careful inquiry, and find that, at a meeting of the faculty held a few years ago, the present Professor of Geology was requested by President Stearns to deliver a course of lectures on evolution, and the faculty, without any audible dissent, seconded the request. At the time, this Professor was known to believe in the evolution law. Since then, evolution has been taught in the department of zoölogy, the Professor or instructor giving such an exposition of the facts favoring and seeming to militate against the doctrine as would be suitable to students. By vote of the faculty, also, Dana's and Le Conte's text-books are used, both of which accept evolution, the second very positively. There is now established an instructorship in biology. Moreover, I learn that every professor in the scientific departments of study believes in the doctrine in question. The following language, with which one of the professors is credited, shows quite a different state of feeling in the institution from what President Seelye would lead us to believe: "Taking all the relations, as I judge them from my stand-point, it must be concluded that the truth lies somewhere within the lines of the evolution theories. Such unquestionably is the teaching of real science in nearly all places where it has both freedom and intelligence. As to its materialistic or atheistic tendencies, I regard it as having none whatever, except in the hollow brains of those would-be sages who talk most concerning that of which they know the least. The most important point is to find out the truth in nature, and teach that, regardless of all bearing it may have on any of our preconceived notions."

Upon this state of facts, certainly very different from that which the ordinary reader would infer from President Seelye's statement (it is not entirely clear what he means), it may be concluded that Amherst College is working along abreast of the best thought of the time, notwithstanding the unfavorable reflection cast upon it by its President's remarks. There was a period when Amherst College had a reputation for its achievements in the field of science. Latterly, it has ceased to have much in that direction, chiefly because dominated by the influence of the teaching in its senior class-room, under the name of mental and moral science, of a collection of bizarre doctrines, expressed in words which have no corresponding thoughts, wholly unscientific and without any philosophical substance or consistency. Since President Seelye thinks he believes in these doctrines, it is hardly to be expected that he could apprehend the truth of statements which express laws of nature scientifically ascertained and verified. The only way in which he could be made to see such truth would be for him to follow the course found necessary by some of his graduates, namely, to unlearn everything taught at Amherst as philosophy, before attempting to take a step forward in the path of true philosophical knowledge.

Of course, to the world of scholars at large, President Seelye's strictures, if they were meant to have application broadly to the doctrine of evolution, will not have the slightest interest; but it ought not to be pleasant for those who have any especial regard for the college to see its president putting forth, in an apparently ill-tempered fling, a statement characterizing unfairly a doctrine which a large portion of the scientific and philosophical world accepts as a natural law abundantly verified, and creating an impression, with respect to the college teaching, which does not seem to be true, and which, if it were true, would only bring discredit upon the institution.

Daniel G. Thompson.

New Yoke City, February 10, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

The article under this heading, in your April number, is an ingenious discussion of the subject, and one which also, considering the solemn matter of which it treats, we must suppose to be ingenuous, although through the entire argument runs the flaw of an erroneous definition. "What is suicide?" asks the writer, and answers, "The voluntary termination of one's own life." Perhaps we should be content with calling this definition imperfect. It has certainly led the writer into error, and to a distinction between egoistic and altruistic suicide, which has no foundation either in ethics or in the definitions of criminal law. There