Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/779

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SCIENCE AND MORALITY.

is coming, but, on the contrary, a great and universal improvement in morality, might have more weight with us if we were sure that their eyes were turned in the right direction. But their observation is apt to be limited, or too much directed to the circle of scientific men around them. Scientific men are pretty sure to be above the average in point of morality; they have dedicated themselves to a high calling, they are elevated by its pursuits, they are free from the more violent passions, and removed from the coarser temptations. For the signs of change we must look rather to the scenes on which men struggle for wealth or power, and the social regions in which the common vices prevail. We must look to the multitudes, who, being now told that they have no hope beyond this world, are apparently making up their minds to have as large a share of the goods and pleasures of this world as their force will give them. Communism, intransigentism, and nihilism are not well represented in scientific reunions. They who sat round the dinner-table of Helvetius, and congratulated each other on the coming of an age of reason and happiness, were the destined victims, not the workers, of the guillotine.

Moreover, as has been said before, the intellectual world, at all events, is still in the twilight of religion. That expression is, indeed, too weak in the case of the positivists, who, not only call themselves a church, but make good their claim to the title by sermons which would do the highest honor to any pulpit, and, though they prefer the name of humanity to that of God, must be really worshiping a deity, not an abstract term, which would be as deaf to prayers or praise as a stock or a stone. An abstract term, in truth, would be rather less susceptible of adoration than that which, like a stock or a stone, has at all events a real existence. But even the man of intellect who rejects all churches and all worship has still sentiments, hopes, and a conscience formed under the influence of Christianity. The same thing is indicated by the repudiation of the name atheist, and the adoption of the strange term agnostic. Blank absence of belief or inclination either way is probably an impossible frame of mind; in nine cases out of ten, when a man calls himself an agnostic, he most likely means that he retains his belief in the existence of a God, though without being able to present the proof distinctly to himself. The very term law, which physical science continues to use, though we can physically be cognizant of nothing beyond general facts, has a theistic significance, and carries with it a certain sense of religious elevation and comfort. Small probably, as yet, is the number of those who have fairly looked in the face blind force and annihilation.

But to the present question. An heroic physician—we remember to have come across the case in some Italian history—finding that a new and mysterious plague is ravaging his city, devotes himself to the preservation of his fellow-citizens, shuts himself up with a subject, takes his observations, consigns them to writing, and, feeling the poison