Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/787

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
763
EDITOR'S TABLE.

living forms of which Mr. Darwin is now the leading representative. And although in the field of biology large numbers of its most eminent students, who are of all men most competent to decide upon it, have accepted that doctrine as representing the truth of Nature more perfectly than any other, and as of immense value in their researches into the laws of life, yet Dr. Smith, as our readers will see, denounces it as a groundless hypothesis due to a riotous imagination, and, in the language of Agassiz, a "mere mire of assertions." His declarations have called forth the applause of the press—always so candid, and intelligent, and independent, on such matters—who seize the occasion to preach new sermons on the "vagaries of science," and declare that they "take sides with the angels against the monkeys," and are "with the Creator against Darwin."

The course of the president was not commended even by his own party. Dr. Newberry, an eminent student of biology and geology, is reported as having spoken in the following decided way: "Prof. Newberry, after a handsome allusion to the retiring president, Prof. J. Lawrence Smith, protested against the opposition to the development theory as expounded in that gentleman's address. Prof. Newberry said he was not himself a Darwinian, but he recognized the value of the evolution theory in science. You cannot measure its value as you can the work of an astronomer, measured by definite ratios of space and time; but he considered the hypothesis one of the most important contributions ever made to a knowledge of Nature. Most men and women are partisans, and some are willing to suppose that the hypothesis is sufficient to account for all the phenomena of the animal kingdom, while, on the other hand, there are those who see in it nothing but failure and deficiency. Let us assume a judicial position, and allow the tests of time and truth to settle the questions involved. Go, however, in whatever direction the facts may lead, and throw prejudice to the winds. Recollect that all truth is consistent with itself."

Dr. Smith can hardly be said to have argued the question of Darwinism. He gave us his own opinion of it, and quoted, to sustain it, two distinguished authorities in natural history. But he gave the influence of his name and position to the charge that it transcends the legitimate limits of inductive inquiry, and is only a wild and absurd speculation. "While the technical and difficult questions of natural history by which the truth or falsity of the doctrine must be determined are beyond the reach of unscientific readers, and belong to the biologists to decide, the question here raised as to whether the investigation, as conducted, is legitimately scientific or not, is one of which all intelligent persons ought to be capable of forming a judgment. We have repeatedly considered this point in the pages of The Popular Science Monthly, and have endeavored to show that the present attitude of the doctrine of evolution is precisely the attitude which all the great established theories and laws of science had to take at their first promulgation. It is familiar to all who know any thing of the progress of science, that astronomy and geology, in their early stages, passed through precisely the same ordeal that biology is passing through now; their leading doctrines were reprobated as false science, and the wild dreams of distempered imaginations. Let us now take another case, in the department of pure physics, and see how scientific history repeats itself:

The undulatory theory of light is now a firmly established principle in physics. Dr. Smith says that "the failure to explain one single well-observed fact is sufficient to cast doubt upon, or subvert, any pure hypothesis,"