Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/420

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408
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the uniformity of Nature. But if the sun stood still for a moment, and no ill-results befell the earth or its inhabitants, that would indeed invalidate the principle.

Pressure and cold will liquefy air, perhaps solidify it, if enough could be brought to bear, but solidified air would not be a miracle, unless performed without physical means, like the water and wine miracle in the New Testament; but if the air should fail to support combustion in any given case, under conditions in which it ordinarily supports it, that would be a miracle, and would disprove the uniformity of Nature. It is true that our belief in the uniformity of Nature does not rest upon the same basis as our belief in the principles of mathematics; for instance, that two parallel lines can never meet if indefinitely extended, or that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, but for my own part my belief in one is just as unshakable as my belief in the other. I do not know, from experience, that no particle of matter can be destroyed, and yet I believe it absolutely. We do not, any of us, know from experience that any calamity would befall the earth if the sun were to stand still for half an hour, yet does anybody doubt it?

I notice that all the divines who have spoken or written upon this subject withhold their belief in the principle of uniformity, in order to save that other cherished belief—the belief in the Biblical miracles. It is incredible what ducking and dodging they will be guilty of, what metaphysical fogs they will conjure up, and what enormous assumptions they will swallow, in order to keep their childish fables from being discredited. The Bishop of Carlisle says the scientific man "can well afford to be generous" and leave the theologians in undisturbed possession of their venerable old scarecrows; but science knows no generosity but the generosity of truth. A miracle is the suspension or annulment of natural law, and there is not the slightest proof, physical or metaphysical, that a natural law ever has been, or ever can be, suspended or annulled except by some other well-known natural law, which thus comes into play and keeps up the continuity of Nature; and the belief or assumption that there has been or can be is the worst kind of infidelity—infidelity toward the works of One in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning.

John Burroughs.
West Park, New York, November 23, 1885.
 

 

SCIENTIFIC FREEDOM.

Mssrs. Editors:

I notice, in your issue for November last, an editorial comment upon the attitude which Mr. St. George Mivart has assumed, in his recent article in the "Nineteenth Century," on "Modern Catholics and Scientific Freedom." Permit me to correct what seems to me an erroneous inference on your part in regard to this matter, to wit, that Mr. Mivart's opinion is Catholic opinion. So far from this being the case, Catholic opinion holds that Sir. Mivart, in the expression of such views as he puts forth in his late article, is treading upon rash and dangerous ground, and that the animus of his paper is without doubt heretical. Catholics can not safely follow him into the extremes to which he goes, nor is it to be supposed that Mr. Mivart's individual opinion is either an authentic or authoritative expression of Catholic views as regards Galileo or evolution, although it must be admitted that the utterances of a gentleman of Mr. Mivart's justly earned scientific and philosophical reputation merit the most respectful attention and careful consideration. While it can not be said that Mr. Mivart's paper contains any formal heresy, its tone is certainly doubtful and inconsistent with the spirit of the Church. He bases it upon a presumed mistake on the part of the Church in the so-called condemnation of Galileo. Mr. Mivart calmly takes this as a matter of course, and does not pretend to advance a single argument in favor of his position—an easy way, indeed, of "brushing aside" the objections of all opponents. In the eyes of Catholics and all impartial witnesses, the Chinch has never made any such mistake as Mr. Mivart strangely and surely, without due consideration of the facts of the case, imputes to her.

In the first place, a condemnation to be de fide must come ex cathedra from the Pope himself, and be promulgated in brief or bull as such. Secondly, the condemnation of no congregation alone is binding de fide; and, thirdly, there was not even such condemnation of the heliocentric system by the Congregation of the Index. Facts are facts, and the slip-shod assumption that a thing is such and such can not pass unchallenged, especially when an argument or theory is based upon a misrepresentation. A congregational condemnation requires a unanimous vote by the members of the Congregation, and in the case of Galileo only seven out of ten cardinals signed the paper condemning his doctrine. Furthermore, the heliocentric system was not a proved fact in Galileo's time, but merely a scientific probability with tremendous weight of scientific authority against it, and, in the then crude condition of physical knowledge, the action of the seven cardinals in condemning the new theory can be readily defended upon grounds of prudence.

In conclusion, I would like to call your attention to a flagrant fallacy in Mr. Mivart's paper—a blunder, indeed, which it seems strange that a man of his logical acumen