Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/387

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
373
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE,

LATE PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.

II.—METEOROLOGY.[1]

THE popular beliefs of classic antiquity regarding storms, thunder, and lightning, took shape in myths representing Vulcan as forging thunderbolts, Jupiter as flinging them at his enemies, Æolus intrusting the winds in a bag to Æneas, and the like. An attempt at their further theological development is seen in the Pythagorean statement that lightnings are intended to terrify the damned in Tartarus.

But, at a very early period, we see the beginning of a scientific view. In Greece, the Ionic philosophers held that such phenomena are obedient to law; Plato, Aristotle, and many lesser lights, attempted to account for them on natural grounds; and their explanations, though crude, were based upon observation and thought. In Rome, Lucretius, Seneca, Pliny, and others, inadequate as their statements were, implanted at least the germs of a science. But, as the Christian Church rose to power, this evolution was checked; the new leaders of thought found, in the Scriptures recognized by them as sacred, the basis for a new view, or rather for a modification of the old view.

This ending of a scientific evolution based upon observation and reason, and this beginning of a sacred science based upon the letter of Scripture and on theology, are seen in the utterances of various Fathers in the early Church. As to the general features of this new development, Tertullian held that sundry passages of Scripture prove lightning identical with hell-fire;[2] and this idea was transmitted from generation to generation of later churchmen, who found an especial support of Tertullian's view in the sulphurous smell experienced during thunderstorms.[3] Saint Hilarion thought the firmament very much lower than the heavens, and that it was created for the support of the upper waters, as well as for the tempering of our atmosphere.[4] Saint Ambrose held the firmament to be a solid vault, and the thunder to be caused by the winds breaking through it; citing from the prophet Amos the sublime passage regarding "Him that establisheth the thunders."[5] He shows, indeed, some conception of the true source of rain; but his whole reasoning is limited by various scriptural texts. He lays great stress upon the firmament as a solid outer shell of the universe: the heavens he holds to be not far outside this outer shell, and argues regarding their

  1. See "The Popular Science Monthly" for October, 1885.
  2. See Tertullian, "Apol. contra gentes," c. 47.
  3. See, for example, Augustin de Angelis, "Lectura Meteorologia," 64.
  4. See Hilarion, "In Psalm," cxxxv (Migne, "Patr. Lat.," ix, 773).
  5. "Firmans tonitrua" (Amos iv, 13); the phrase does not appear in our version.