Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/February 1880/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



THOSE dainty purists who "do not like the word Sociology and are therefore hindered from taking interest in the science that passes under the name, may get a glimpse of one of its problems in unobjectionable form by reading the able paper of a practical lawyer which opens the present "Monthly." Of all the questions by which modern society is agitated, there is none more momentous than that of the public treatment of crime and criminals. No man can be found so stupid as to maintain that the present practice is satisfactory; and but few have the wisdom to indicate anything that is really much better. In this state of affairs the first thing required is to understand how present conditions were reached; and what is the nature of those changes that have brought past amelioration, and may lead on to a still better state. Only when the laws of social progress are discovered and made widely known can they be conformed to by communities with solid and lasting advantage.

We have a system of penal laws for the protection of individual rights and the conservation of society by punishing prescribed offenses; and the general notion is, that this system is coeval with government, and was originally instituted essentially in its present form and for its present purpose. This, however, is a great mistake, as is instructively shown by Mr. Billson. He points out that the first rude governments have only a concern for themselves. Government arose in tribal antagonisms, was a militant organization against external foes, and recognized no crimes except such as treason, cowardice, desertion, or such acts as injured itself. There was, at first, not the slightest idea of protecting citizens against crime by punishing private offenses. Individuals were left to redress their own grievances. Murder, for example, was a private wrong, to be privately avenged by a relative of the victim, who was at liberty to kill the murderer. Government had no internal police or judicial processes, and the rule of punishment was that of private personal vengeance. Society, as a consequence, was torn by internal feuds and bloody violence, and was ruled by the spirit of retaliation and revenge. Mr. Billson shows us the extent and atrocity and tenacity of this system, and how criminal law arose out of the necessity of regulating the excesses of malignant blood-avengement.

This chapter in the criminal history of society has a grave significance as interpreting the spirit by which crime is still treated. For, although civilized society has made great advances in framing penal codes on principles of justice, and although government has abolished private retaliation, and itself assumes the prerogative of punishing crime, it has not outgrown the vindictive passions of the barbarous past. The practice of dueling, a vestige of the old private avengement of wrong, is not extinct; and in the prison-treatment and public execution of criminals we still see survivals of the old savage feeling of vengeance that has not yet died out of the community. By the abolition of torture we have conceded that criminals have rights, but no conception of the correlative rights of the criminal and of society is allowed to determine the kind and degree of punishment. A criminal is one upon whom vengeance is to be wreaked, and this feeling barbarizes the prison overseer, and brutalizes the convict so as to make his existence a curse to himself, and if set free he is more inveterately at feud with society than he was before "justice" took him in hand. What but the spirit of vengeance is it in society-which prevents the convict from having all the sympathy of treatment and chance of self-help and amendment that are consistent with his detention in prison as a measure of public security? The surviving spirit of revenge is again seen in the tenacity with which society clings to its brutal modes of execution, turning them into shows for a select company, so that the details may be scattered through the land, and all may enjoy the ghastly accompaniments with which vengeance has been satisfied. In the course of social progress the vengeful feelings have been more and more constrained by the growth of humane sentiments, and their modes of exercise have been transformed, but there is plenty of room for further salutary change.


The gradual acceptance of the doctrine of evolution among our theological friends is causing some perturbation which it is important to notice. Our orthodox contemporary, the "Independent," recognizing the mischief that is being done by the obstinate refusal of religious teachers to accept the conclusions of science, came out strongly in favor of the evolution theory. Dr. McCosh had declared, in addressing the Evangelical Alliance in New York: "It is useless to tell the younger naturalists that there is no truth in the doctrine of development, for they know that there is truth which is not to be set aside by denunciation. Religious philosophers might be more profitably employed in showing them the religious aspects of the doctrine of development; and some would be grateful to any who would help them to keep their old faith in God and the Bible with their new faith in science." The "Independent" took this ground, and in its article upon the subject said: "We are all taught in our best schools, by our scientific authorities, almost without exception (and we laymen in science are, therefore, compelled to believe), that man was, at least so far as his physical structure is concerned, evolved from irrational animals. We, therefore, can not help doubting, as every thinking and scholarly young man [in these schools] must and does doubt, whether the story of the fall in the first Adam is historical."

The cautious and vigilant "New York Observer" now took the alarm. It sent this passage to nine presidents of colleges, and asked them if it was true that it represented the teaching in their respective institutions. Dr. Porter, of Yale, replied, "The inclosed does not give a correct representation of the teaching in this college by our scientific authorities." Dr. McCosh, of Princeton, said: "In answer to your inquiries I have to state that we do not teach in this college that man is 'evolved from irrational animals.' I teach that man's soul was made in the image of God, and his body out of the dust of the ground. I do not oppose development, but an atheistic development." Dr. Chadbourne, of Williams, answered: "The doctrine is not taught here that man, even in his physical nature, was evolved from one of the lower animals. Wallace, who claims with Darwin the honor of the doctrine known as 'Darwinism,' admits that its principles fail when applied to man." President Cattell, of Lafayette, replied: I have never heard of any of my colleagues expressing, either in private or in the class-room, the opinion referred to in the slip you send me. We are keenly alive here to the danger from what is manifestly the infidel trend of the views generally held by evolutionists. It is a great relief to me to know that among all my colleagues there is such a cordial acceptance of the old faith, which it has been the tendency or the avowed aim of these materialistic teachers to destroy." Dr. Brown, of Hamilton, responded: "The doctrine of the 'evolution of man from irrational animals' has never, to my knowledge, been taught in Hamilton College. I trust it never will be till it is proved to be true, as in my judgment it has not been, and I do not think it ever will be." President Potter, of Union, declared, "The printed statement you forward is not a correct statement of the teaching in this college." President Robinson, of Brown University, replied, "We do not teach the doctrine stated in the inclosed slip." Dr. Anderson, of Rochester University, protested that "we have never taught in our institution that man is 'evolved from irrational animals,' for the simple reason that we believe the notion to be an unverified hypothesis." And President Seelye, of Amherst, indignantly responded: "This college does not yet teach groundless guesses for ascertained truths of science. So long as the notion that man is evolved from the monkey or from any irrational animal has not a single fact to rest upon, and is in flat contradiction to all the facts of history, I think we may leave it with the sciolists."

Now, this unanimity of unqualified denial has its significant implications. For, if evolution is not taught in those colleges, we may fairly infer that it is because the old alternative doctrine has not been given up; that is, as President Cattell observes, there is among his colleagues "such a cordial acceptance of the old faith." Hence we learn that, on a large question of natural history, nine of the leading American colleges teach the old theological beliefs rather than the conclusions of modern science.

The "Observer" of course exultingly avails itself of the official declarations it has elicited, and points the moral of the case by restating the biological teaching of "the Holy Scriptures," still inculcated in the colleges. It triumphantly asks of the "Independent": "Where are the schools, 'our best schools,' in which its vile doctrine is taught? Degrading as the doctrine is, opposed to the common sense of mankind, contradicted by science and history and the Holy Scriptures, what reckless audacity there is in asserting that it is taught in our best schools!" Again it says: "The Apostle Paul affirms that 'by man came death,' and that 'in Adam all died,' and that 'death reigned from Adam to Moses,' and that' by one man's offense death reigned by one.' But the 'Independent' says that 'every scholarly young man' must doubt whether the fall in Adam is a fact. The historian Luke traces the lineage of the Son of Mary from son to father, step by step, till he gets back to Seth, 'who was of Adam, who was of God.' Tills is the Biblical history of development, by which the human race is traced to the time when Moses says God made man and called him Adam. . . . No young person whose mind receives the views of the 'Independent' can at the same time be a believer in the oracles of divine truth. To hold the one is to despise the other. If the irrational animal gospel is true, Christ's gospel is a humbug."

Such is the theological biology to which the presidents of nine American colleges are thus authoritatively construed as committing themselves and their institutions.

Several interesting questions here arise, and the first is an unpleasant inquiry as to how far these presidential declarations are fair and true. Do they represent the facts or do they mislead? We leave this question to be answered by the "Independent." Having gone behind the returns and looked into the subject, it reports that, in Yale, Professors Marsh and Dana are pronounced evolutionists, and that what is true of these two men is true of Verrill, Brewer, Smith, and of all the other teachers of the biological sciences in Yale College; and it quotes Marsh as having said before the American Scientific Association: "It is now regarded among the active workers in science as a waste of time to discuss the truth of evolution. The battle on this point has been fought and won." As regards Princeton, the "Independent" says: "Dr. McCosh is quite outspoken in defense of the legitimacy of evolution, though not a Darwinian nor a naturalist. Professor Macloskie, their only naturalist, a man who has developed remarkably within a few years, is even more decided in the same direction, as are, without reserve, the distinguished Professors of Astronomy and Physics, Young and Brackett."

In respect to Brown University, we are told that "Professor A. S. Packard, Jr., is the only instructor in zoology or botany that we recall in Brown. He fully believes in evolution—man's physical structure no exception—and his published books support evolution through and through."

As to Amherst, "It is sufficient to state that the Professor of Geology in Amherst is an unreserved theistic evolutionist, who teaches the antiquity of the human race, and we have no doubt the same is true of his young colleague in natural history."

The "Independent" then presses the question as follows:

"Why did not the 'Observer' inquire of the President of Harvard College? Probably because he was afraid of the answer he would get. But did he not know that Harvard is one of those 'best schools,' having 'scientific authorities,' which we were talking about; and that Louis Agassiz, the great opponent of evolution, the most influential naturalist that ever lived in America, was a Harvard professor, while Asa Gray, the great American botanist, a champion of religion against materialism, and a devout member of an orthodox church, is another Harvard professor? But its omission was wise. Of all the younger brood of working naturalists whom Agassiz educated, every one—Morse, Shaler, Verrill, Niles, Hyatt, Scudder, Putnam, even his own son—has accepted evolution. Every one of the Harvard professors whose departments have to do with biology—Gray, Whitney, A. Agassiz, Hagen, Goodale, Shaler, James, Farlow, and Faxon—is an evolutionist, and man's physical structure they regard as no real exception to the law. They are all theists, we believe; all conservative men. They do not all believe that Darwinism—that is, natural selection—is a sufficient theory of evolution; they may incline to Wallace's view, but they accept evolution. It is not much taught; it is rather taken for granted. At Johns Hopkins University, which aims to be the most advanced in the country, nothing but evolution is held or taught. In the excellent University of Pennsylvania all the biological professors are evolutionists—Professors Leidy and Allen in comparative anatomy, Professor Rothrock in botany, and Professor Lesley in geology. We might mention Michigan University, Cornell, Dartmouth, Bowdoin; but what is the use of going further? It would only be the same story. There can scarcely an exception be found. Wherever there is a working naturalist, he is sure to be an evolutionist. We made inquiry of two ex-Presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One wrote us, in reply, 'My impression is that there is no biologist of repute nowadays who does not accept, in some form or other, the doctrine of derivation in time, whatever be the precise form in which they suppose the evolution to have occurred.' His successor replied: 'Almost without exception, the working naturalists in this country believe in evolution. . . . In England and Germany the belief in evolution is almost universal among the active workers in biology. In France the belief is less general, but is rapidly gaining ground. . . . I should regard a teacher of science who denied the truth of evolution as being as incompetent as one who doubted the Copernican theory.' We challenge the 'Observer to find three working naturalists of repute in the United States—or two (it can find one in Canada)—that is not an evolutionist. And where a man believes in evolution, it goes without saying that the law holds as to man's physical structure."

These, then, are the "sciolists," the smatterers, the shallow novices, to whom President Seelye leaves the subject; meantime the learned professors of Amherst illustrate the dignity of scholarship and the ripeness of knowledge by teaching the biology of the ancient Hebrews. The theory of evolution is now guiding the researches of the scientific world because it is being constantly and increasingly verified in the new results to which it leads; but President Anderson will not teach it because it is "an unverified hypothesis." Has he a verified hypothesis, then? or do they, at the University of Rochester, dodge the foremost philosophic question of the age?

The college presidents seem to resent the imputation that they teach the derivation of man from "irrational animals"; and the "Observer" calls the doctrine "vile" and "degrading." There is a current vulgar belief that the idea of human derivation from inferior animals is scandalous and revolting. But is not this, after all, the established method of producing man? "What is a new-born babe but an "irrational animal," and does not each president of a college come from such an "irrational animal" by a process of development? And that is not all. Each human individual, beginning as a protoplasmic germ, is evolved step by step, passing in the gestative period through type after type of "irrational animals" before the developed human life begins. "Will the nine doctors of divinity be good enough to say who it was that they think designed this arrangement? And do they not, moreover, teach that the Creator first tried the miraculous method of bringing people into existence at once and perfect, and then abandoned it for the present plan of developing them gradually out of "irrational animals" through the common processes by which inferior creatures are multiplied?


We heard a good thing recently of a distinguished Professor at a distinguished university, eminent for its high toned devotion to the interests of pure scholarship. The Professor had been lecturing upon a favorite subject, and declared the charm of it to be that "it could not possibly be prostituted to any practical or useful purpose." There is much to admire in this plucky spirit of devotion to truth for its own sake; but it is easy to make this transcendent state of mind subservient to a very bad utility. And, while we value great seats of learning, which provide for the devotees who pursue knowledge for the love of it, we have to guard against the prostitution of this idea to pernicious ends in current education. For, while the exceptional scholar may ignore the practical and the beneficial, the mass of mankind can not do so. They live in a world of action and struggle, and have minds to guide them in their labors and conflicts. These minds require cultivation, that they may do their work better. Knowledge is, therefore, for guidance, and education for the more intelligent direction of the activities and work of life. But this principle is far from being yet recognized in current education. The lower schools seize upon the higher ethics of university study and pervert them into a defense of their own bad practices. They teach worthless things, on the pretense that the kind of knowledge is of but little account, as education is only concerned with mental training. The crudeness and inefficiency of teaching are excused upon the plea that mental discipline is the thing aimed at in study. Our whole school system is imbued with this vicious fallacy, which is the great obstacle to rationalizing school methods. The knowledge that is of most worth is either not taught or is taught so loosely and carelessly that it is of but little practical use; and the consequence is, that our boys are turned out into the world so ignorant and incompetent that they are defenseless in the exposures of everyday experience.

What shall we say of a system of education which throws its students into society unable to protect themselves from the grossest impostures? To what end is a community filled with colleges, high-schools, and common schools, upon which millions of dollars are spent, when its graduates go out to become the ready prey of charlatans and sharpers, who can enrich themselves by pushing the most absurd and preposterous projects?

We are led to these reflections by the last curious report of lightning-rod swindles. The proud State that gives us our President and Chief Justice, and makes a great ado about its education, has also the honor of originating and harboring "Chambers's National Lightning Protection Company" of Cincinnati. The Americans are a progressive people, great on improvements, and the Westerners are specially wide-awake in this respect. So the new lightning-rod is a great step forward in inventive science. It is laid flat upon the ridge of the building, and turned up at the two ends, and has no connection with the ground. Its rationale seems to be that the lightning-discharge is caught upon one of the points, and, there being no rod to convey it to the earth, it is obliged to "diffuse back into the air where it belongs and whence it came." Of course, such an arrangement is worthless for protection, and is, moreover, absolutely dangerous, as every intelligent schoolboy ought to know; and yet such is the grossness of public stupidity that the company drove a thriving business with their contrivance, mounting it upon a great number of private dwellings, and even upon school-buildings. Professor Macomber, of the Agricultural College at Ames, Iowa, seeing the extent to which people were humbugged by this so-called "Protector," publicly denounced it as a fraud, whereupon he was prosecuted by the company, which laid its damages at $50,000. As the thing was getting serious, the Professor concluded to make thorough work with the exposure, and accordingly appealed to a large number of scientific men of the highest reputation, to give their opinion of the "Chambers rod." He has published the replies of Morton, Anthony, Rood, Mayer, Clarke, Baird, Newcomb, Todd, Le Conte, Silliman, Kedzie, Davies, Edison, Trowbridge, Rowland, Young, Hinrichs, Harvey, Pickering, Loomis, and Tyndall, who all agree that it is a worthless humbug, of no use for protection, and an actual danger to any house upon which it is placed. Yet the company will probably suffer but little interruption in its business, as its main stock in trade is public ignorance and credulity. The lightning-rod fiend may be expected to ply his profitable vocation until the common schools do better work than they have accomplished hitherto.

The abridgment of Judge Daly's recent address before the Geographical Society, on the early history of cartographical art, may be commended to the attention of our readers, but we must remind them that it is a very incomplete representation of the original lecture. A condensation in literature is generally the worst kind of mutilation; for, instead of cutting the thing into large sections by which considerable portions are left unmutilated, the condenser performs his crushing operation on the whole, so that very little is left as the author puts it. Compression is often necessary, but it is generally at the expense of the symmetry and finish of the performance. The President of the Geographical Society expresses regret that his pressure of legal duties during the past year had not allowed him time to work up the progress of current geographical discovery, as he has been in the habit of doing in the preparation of his annual address. But in place of it he has given the world unquestionably the best monograph on the history of map-making in connection with the development of early geography that can anywhere be found. It is a careful statement, laying under contribution all the resources of geographical erudition, and the few small cuts we reproduce from it but poorly represent the full series of old maps that have been prepared to illustrate the subject, and are contained in the pamphlet issued by the Geographical Society. To that document the reader is referred for the ampler and more satisfactory discussion of the subject.