Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/288

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284
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

SCIENCE AND MORALITY
By Professor ALBERT P. MATHEWS

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

ONE of the most striking phenomena of the nineteenth century was the great rise of science and the loosening of religious ties coincident with a marked improvement in general morality. As it has for centuries been generally taught that morals depend upon religion, this phenomenon has to many appeared inexplicable. Indeed, some have closed their eyes to the great change for the better that has taken place[1] so convinced are they that an improvement of morals is impossible except through religion. To them the basis of morality has seemed to be slipping away with their religious tenets.

The decadence of theology accompanying the rise of science is no mere coincidence. The general enlightenment of the age, which has been brought about by the scientific method, has undermined the Christian theology and indeed all theology in two ways: it has, on the one hand, seriously impaired the authority of the Bible as an errorless book; and, on the other hand, in a far more important way it has revolutionized the world by exalting reason rather than faith. What may be called the scientific habit of mind is incompatible with the blind acceptance of statements unsupported by evidence. Science has been justified, moreover, by the enormous contributions it has made to human happiness in the last half century. The question is, having thus undermined religious beliefs, what has science to offer in the place of religion as basis of morals? Can it take the place of religion as an aid to morals?

The discovery of the fundamental causes of moral conduct is of the first importance if we are to answer these questions and hasten the process of improvement. For it has been generally felt that our progress in national and individual morality is not so rapid as it ought to be. A method of hastening the process is sought and many suggestions have been made, the most frequent being that of teaching morals in the schools. It is obvious that before proceeding intelligently we must understand what the causes of morality are. If morals depend upon religion it would appear sensible to give religious instruction in the schools; if, however, the deep springs of good

  1. By many people the awakening of public consciousness of the immorality of certain acts is misinterpreted as an increase in immorality, instead of the distinct improvement in morals which it actually represents.