Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/801

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781
A DEFENSE OF MODERN THOUGHT.

sire to rest in an order of conceptions not liable to disturbance. The great Faraday, who had not brought himself to this point, used to say that when he had to deal with questions of faith he left all scientific and other human reasonings at the door, and that when he had to deal with questions of science he discarded in like manner all theological modes of thought. The region of science was one region, that of faith was another; and between these he placed a wall so high that once on either side he could see nothing that lay on the other. He did not attempt to reconcile faith with science, as some do; he separated them utterly, feeling them apparently to be irreconcilable. Thus he virtually lived in two worlds—one in which no miracles took place, but in which everything flowed in an orderly manner from recognized antecedents, and another in which the chain of causation might be broken at any moment by supernatural power. Since Faraday's time, however, men of science have grown bolder. They have renounced the attempt to live a divided life. They do not believe in insuperable barriers between one field of thought and another. They believe in the unity of the human mind and in the unity of truth. They have made their choice—those of them at least whom the Bishop of Ontario designates as agnostics—in favor of a world in which cause and effect maintain constant relations. In doing so they do not act willfully, but simply yield to the irresistible weight of evidence. Miracle is a matter of more or less uncertain testimony, while the unchangeableness of natural law is a matter of daily observation. Miracles never happen in the laboratory. Supernatural apparitions do not haunt the museum. Distant ages and countries or lonely road-sides reap all the glory of these manifestations. What wonder, then, that the man of science prefers to trust in what his eyes daily see and his hands handle, rather than in narratives of perfervid devotees, or in traditions handed down from centuries whose leading characteristic was an omnivorous credulity? There is nothing negative in this attitude of mind. On the contrary, it is positive in the highest degree. The true man of science wants to know and believe as much as possible. He desires to know what is and to adapt his thoughts to that; and the universe is to him simply an inexhaustible treasure-house of truths, all of more or less practical import.

It is right, however, before proceeding further, to examine this word "agnosticism" a little, to see whether it is one that is really serviceable in the present controversy. That some have been willing to apply the term to themselves and to regard it as rather ben trovato, I am quite aware; but I think there are good reasons why serious thinkers should decline to call themselves by such a name, and should object to its application to them by others.

A question proposed for discussion either can or can not be settled; it either lies within or beyond the region in which verification is possible. If it lies within that region, no man should call himself an