Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/147

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

And as he elsewhere writes respecting the attitude of the Greek mind in general:

"In his" (the early Greek's) "view, the description of the sun, as given in a modern astronomical treatise, would have appeared not merely absurd, but repulsive and impious: even in later times, when the positive spirit of inquiry had made considerable progress, Anaxagoras and other astronomers incurred the charge of blasphemy for dispersonifying Hêlios, and trying to assign invariable laws to the solar phenomena."[1]

That a likeness exists between the feeling then displayed respecting phenomena of inorganic Nature and the feeling now displayed respecting phenomena of Life and Society, is manifest. The ascription of social actions and political events entirely to natural causes, thus leaving out Providence as a factor, seems, to the religious mind of our day, as seemed to the mind of the pious Greek the dispersonification of Hêlios and the interpretation of the celestial motions otherwise than by immediate divine agency. As was said by Mr. Gladstone, in a speech made shortly after the publication of the second chapter of this volume:

"I lately read a discussion on the manner in which the raising up of particular individuals occasionally occurs in great crises of human history, as if some sacred, invisible power had raised them up and placed them in particular positions for special purposes. The writer says that they are not uniform, but admits that they are common—so common and so remarkable that men would be liable to term them providential in a pre-scientific age. And this was said without the smallest notion apparently in the writer's mind that he was giving utterance to anything that could startle or alarm—it was said as a kind of commonplace. It would seem that in his view there was a time when mankind, lost in ignorance, might, without forfeiting entirely their title to the name of rational creatures, believe in a Providence, but that since that period another and greater power has arisen under the name of science, and this power has gone to war with Providence, and Providence is driven from the field—and we have now the happiness of living in the scientific age, when Providence is no longer to be treated as otherwise than an idle dream."[2]

Of the mental attitude, very general beyond the limits of the scientific world, which these utterances of Mr. Gladstone exemplify, he has since given further illustration; and, in his anxiety to check a movement he thinks mischievous, has so conspicuously made himself the exponent of the anti-scientific view, that we may fitly regard his thoughts on the matter as typical. In an address delivered by him at the Liverpool College, and since republished with additions, he says:

"Upon the ground of what is termed evolution, God is relieved of the labor of creation; in the name of unchangeable laws, He is discharged from governing the world."

This passage proves the kinship between Mr. Gladstone's conception of things and that entertained by the Greeks to be even closer than

  1. "History of Greece," vol. i., p. 466.
  2. Morning Post, May 15, 1872.