Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/747

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

community. The fight has been carried on to a great extent blindly, and most attempts to establish order have only succeeded in increasing the confusion. Sorties from the camp of "the fathers" have been made, and weapons have been carried back; but, alas! the weapons were useless, or, if used, they injured the user. The conflict is still waging, and it will continue to wage. Occasionally faint promises of a better understanding are given, but some misguided enthusiast, on one side or the other, hastens to destroy the hopes of a happy issue. The frequent shocks received by "the fathers" have unduly excited them, and they look upon each advance of science as something dangerous. Often they do not stop to examine whether the movement of the hostile party is, or is not, antagonistic to their position, but blindly throw their whole force against it, and anxiously look for the results of the crash. It sometimes happens that they thus waste their force, and weaken themselves for future necessary encounters.

Dropping the figure, we may safely assert that those who are avowedly the opponents of science, though their objects may be the highest—though they may be actuated by only noble desires—have, unfortunately, from time to time brought ridicule upon themselves by upholding views which were not tenable, and which a careful examination and thorough knowledge of the subject would show to be unnecessary for the support of their theories. These somewhat trite remarks lead to a consideration of the subject embraced in the title of this paper.

There are certain chemical substances known to us which only occur in the organs of plants or animals. The number of these substances at present known is very great, and new ones are being rapidly added to the list. They consist often of but three elements—carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen; sometimes nitrogen is added to these, and, rarely, phosphorus or sulphur. Notwithstanding the fact that they are made up of few constituents, they are usually of complicated structure; indeed, the complication in some of them is so great that, with our present means of analysis, we are unable to express their composition by means of satisfactory formulæ. The substances referred to have been known by the name organic bodies.

Up to within a few years chemists were, to a certain extent, justified in drawing a line of division between two classes of bodies, both occurring in Nature: 1. Those which can be prepared in the laboratory; 2. Those which cannot be prepared in the laboratory. The second class included the so-called organic bodies. These were known to occur only in the organs of plants or animals. The two facts, taken together, were significant, and but little surprise can be expressed that a connection was traced between them. The simplest conclusion that could be drawn from the premises was drawn, and the scientific world, buoyed up by certain preconceived notions in regard