Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/455

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tic troubles, and financial cares, or his industry had been just a little less tenacious, he would have failed in the prodigious calculations which led him to his brilliant discoveries, and gave science such a great propulsion. Just five years after the publication of Kepler's "New Astronomy" the Laird of Merchison published, in Scotland, his "Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio." If Kepler had only had Napier's logarithms! But succeeding students have enjoyed this wonderful instrumental aid, and done great mental work with less draught on their vital energies.

The very facts, then, which make us proud of modern science should make scientific men very humble. It will be noticed that the most arrogant cultivators of science are those who are most ready to assail such religious men as are rigid, and hold that nothing can be added to or taken away from theology; and such scientific men make this assault on the assumption that physical sciences are fixed, certain, and exact. How ridiculous they make themselves, a review of the history of any science for the last fifty years would show. Is there any department of physical science in which a text-book used a quarter of a century ago would now be put into the hands of any student? The fact is that any man, who is careful of his reputation, has some trepidation in issuing a volume on science, lest the day his publishers announce his book the morning papers announce, also, a discovery which knocks the bottom out of all his arguments. This shows the great intellectual activity of the age—a matter to rejoice in, but it should also promote humility, and repress egotism in all well-ordered minds. There is, probably, no one thing known in its properties and accidents, in its relations to all abstract truths and concrete existence. No one thing is exactly and thoroughly known by any man, or by all men. Mr. Herbert Spencer well says: "Much of what we call science is not exact, and some of it, as physiology, can never become exact" ("Recent Discussions," p. 158). He might have made the remark with greater width, and no less truth, since every day accumulates proof that that department of our knowledge which we call the exact sciences holds an increasingly small proportion to the whole domain of science.

There is one important truth which seems often ignored, and which should frequently be brought to our attention, viz., that the propositions which embody our science are statements not of absolute truths, but of probabilities. Probabilities differ. There is that which is merely probable, and that which is more probable, and that which is still much more probable, and that which is so probable that our faculties cannot distinguish between this probability and absolute certainty; and so we act on it as if it were certain. But it is still only a "probability," and not a "certainty." It seems as though it would forever be impossible for us to determine how near a probability can approach a certainty without becoming identical with that certainty.