Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/515

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



Since his death, Prof. Agassiz has been much and ardently lauded as a Christian scientist, and a champion of the faith against scientific skepticism. It is gratifying to he assured that he was neither a Mohammedan, nor a Buddhist, nor a Sun-worshiper, but a good Christian, as he ought to have been; and here, perhaps, it would be as well to let the matter rest. But, when we are told that Agassiz was a Christian because of his opposition to Darwinism, we decidedly object. Prof. Agassiz was a Theist, who ascribed the universe to a Divine Mind; Darwinians do the same. That Prof. Agassiz has attempted to show the incompatibility of the Christian system of doctrine with Darwinian ideas, we are not aware; but, on the other hand, there are many Christian theologians who take the opposite view. As we show in another place, a literature of reconciliation is springing up, and we are beginning to hear of Christian evolutionists, as we have long heard of Christian astronomers and Christian geologists. But because Agassiz was a Theist, it by no means follows that his theories of Natural History were specially religious, and the attempt to make them so, so far as influential at all, will be doubly mischievous. It will prejudice scientific inquiry by favoring the idea that the results of investigation may be irreligious; and it will injure Christianity by identifying it with physical doctrines and interpretations of Nature, which it is the business of science to investigate, and which investigation is liable to change. He who insists upon linking religion to any view of natural phenomena, puts it in grave peril. The attempt, long ago made, to identify it with the belief in the flatness and fixity of the earth was a serious error; and the subsequent attempt to identify it with the doctrine of the recent creation of the earth was another mischievous mistake. To try the experiment a third time, in the domain of Biology, cannot fail to be still more injurious. It is believed by great numbers of the most intelligent students of the subject that the old opinions regarding the origin of living things upon earth are certainly doomed to pass away. At all events, the subject is unsettled, and it is therefore unwise to make Christianity a partisan to any of its theories.

It is well also to bear in mind that, if Agassiz fights Darwinism, he accepts Evolution. Forty years ago he wrote of the life upon the globe, "An invisible thread in all ages runs through its immense diversity, exhibiting as a general result the fact that there is a constant progress and development ending in man;" and, in his very last article, to the question, "Is there any such process as evolution in Nature?" he answers, "Unquestionably, yes." He was of opinion that little as yet has been contributed toward the scientific solution of this great problem; but, however that may be, evolution in Nature he conceded as a fact which belongs to the future of science. If, therefore, Agassiz was a Christian, belief in evolution is not inconsistent with Christianity. This is the ground now taken by many eminent theologians, who, like Dr. McCosh, maintain that Christianity has no interest in holding by the question one way or the other. Dr. Peabody, in his sermon at the funeral of Agassiz, took a similar position, and is reported to have said: "His repugnance to Darwinism grew in great part from his apprehension of its atheistical tendency, an apprehension which, I confess, I cannot share; for I forget not that these theories, now on the ascendant, are maintained by not a few devout Christian men, and while they seem to me unproved and incapable of demonstration, I could admit them without parting with one iota of my faith in God and Christ."