Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/570

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

BEECHER'S POSITION ON EVOLUTION.

TWO great standards of truth have prevailed in the world; truth according to nature and truth according to theology. Truth according to nature has been held as of little moment, because all its consequences are temporal and transitory; but truth according to theology has been held as of infinite importance, because salvation and the interests of an immortal destiny depended upon it. There was, therefore, but little chance for getting up much interest in the truth of things natural so long as the theological standard of truth was supreme. Galileo made a book stating the evidence of the Copernican system of astronomy according to the facts of nature; but he was summoned before the inquisitorial court to answer the charge of heresy for not judging of the scheme of the planetary motions by the standard of theological authority. Truth according to nature in those days went for very little in comparison with truth according to the supernatural. Theological ideas were in the minds of everybody, were held of transcendent importance, and everything in the shape of new knowledge was first brought to the test of agreement with authorized religious doctrine.

Two or three centuries have made great changes in this matter. The theological standard has been lowered, and a much higher value is set on the truth which agrees with nature; but multitudes of minds are still dominated by theological conceptions, and when new ideas are proposed instead of asking whether they agree with the facts or are true to the nature of things, the first question is, as it was three hundred years ago, How do these ideas agree with prevailing religious opinions? The illustrations of his survival of the theological spirit and methods are still numerous, and a fresh example has recently come to our attention which will well serve to bring out the point we have in view in the present article. It consisted of a vigorous attack on Mr. Beecher's book, "Evolution and Religion," which appeared in the "Commercial Advertiser" of November 20th. The point of view is thoroughly mediæval, the writer seeming to care but very little as to whether evolution is true or not, but to be profoundly concerned about theology's relation to it. The writer condemns Mr. Beecher for refusing to judge of the doctrine of evolution on the basis of its agreement or non-agreement with the old middle-age standards of religious dogma. He says: "Of course Mr. Beecher, like anybody else, may put what construction he pleases on the doctrine of evolution, and he may put a construction to suit him on the doctrines of theology, and in that way patch up a sort of reconciliation: and that is precisely what he does. ... At the same time he contrives a religion which is certainly not the religion of the fathers, or of the martyrs, or of the ancient confessors, or of any of the accepted symbols of the Church." From which we are to infer that the theology of the fathers and of the martyrs and of the ancient confessors or old cast-iron middle-aged orthodoxy, is to be taken as the standard of truth, and the doctrine of evolution judged by its agreement with that standard. That the writer should argue that the doctrine of evolution is materialistic and atheistic is quite a matter of course; but what we wish to call attention to here is, that he seems to have but little more care as to whether this doctrine is true to the realities of nature than had the old inquisitors in relation to the new astronomy. Indeed, toward